There’s only one place where you can get clones, time travel, simulated realities, irradiated and irritated giant lizards, and space fights and beyond. (Maybe not all at once, but we can dream.) Anything’s possible in this creative nebula known as science fiction, and with its long and historic association with cinema, we present our choices of the greatest science-fiction movies ever: The 150 Essential Sci-Fi Movies!
As they do with horror, filmmakers use science fiction to reflect our aspirations, terrors, and issues of the times. Through genre lens, we can consider our impact on the environment (Godzilla, WALL-E), technology gone berserk (The Terminator, Ex Machina), identity (Blade Runner, The Matrix), and societal breakdowns (Children of Men, A Clockwork Orange). We might even check-in on the current state of the human condition (Gattaca, Her).
Or, maybe we just want to see giant ants wreak havoc across the neighborhood. There may not be a lot of subtext in a big monster movie like Them!, or even crowd-pleasing masterpieces like Star Wars or Back to the Future, but they speak to the one thing that attracts us to movies in the first place: escapism. Science-fiction movies are our tickets to planets far-away (Star Trek, Avatar, Starship Troopers), or a quick hop to a local joint in the solar system (The Martian, Total Recall). They take us just above the atmosphere (Gravity), deep down to the bottom of the ocean (20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, The Abyss), and into the human body (Fantastic Voyage). Limited only 2020by imagination, sci-fi inspires wonder, awe, terror, and hope for alternative mindsets and better futures.
Sci-fi spreads across subgenres, all represented here: the monster movie (Cloverfield), space opera (Serenity), cyberpunk (Ghost in the Shell), and post-apocalyptic (Mad Max: Fury Road) and more. Or it can fuse onto traditional genres like drama (Donnie Darko, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind), comedy (Repo Man, Idiocracy), and action (Predator, Demoliton Man). Wherever the destination, these movies — each with at least 20 reviews — were selected because of their unique, fun, and possibly even mind-blowing spins on reality.
It’s time to strap in and cue the Theremin for some of the best science-fiction films created: Time to launch the 150 Essential Sci-Fi Movies!
Critics Consensus:Annihilation backs up its sci-fi visual wonders and visceral genre thrills with an impressively ambitious -- and surprisingly strange -- exploration of challenging themes that should leave audiences pondering long after the end credits roll.
Synopsis: Lena, a biologist and former soldier, joins a mission to uncover what happened to her husband inside Area X --... [More]
Critics Consensus:Contact elucidates stirring scientific concepts and theological inquiry at the expense of satisfying storytelling, making for a brainy blockbuster that engages with its ideas, if not its characters.
Synopsis: In this Zemeckis-directed adaptation of the Carl Sagan novel, Dr. Ellie Arroway (Jodie Foster) races to interpret a possible message... [More]
Critics Consensus: Remixing Roger Corman's B-movie by way of the Off-Broadway musical, Little Shop of Horrors offers camp, horror and catchy tunes in equal measure -- plus some inspired cameos by the likes of Steve Martin and Bill Murray.
Synopsis: Meek flower shop assistant Seymour (Rick Moranis) pines for co-worker Audrey (Ellen Greene). During a total eclipse, he discovers an... [More]
Critics Consensus: The epitome of so-bad-it's-good cinema, Plan 9 From Outer Space is an unintentionally hilarious sci-fi "thriller" from anti-genius Ed Wood that is justly celebrated for its staggering ineptitude.
Synopsis: Residents of California's San Fernando Valley are under attack by flying saucers from outer space. The aliens, led by Eros... [More]
Critics Consensus: It doesn't fulfill the potential of its ambitious themes, butSilent Running stands as a decidedly unique type of sci-fi journey marked by intimate character work and a melancholic mood.
Synopsis: After the end of all botanical life on Earth, ecologist Freeman Lowell (Bruce Dern) maintains a greenhouse on a space... [More]
Critics Consensus: Steven Spielberg's adaptation of War of the Worlds delivers on the thrill and paranoia of H.G. Wells' classic novel while impressively updating the action and effects for modern audiences.
Synopsis: Dockworker Ray Ferrier (Tom Cruise) struggles to build a positive relationship with his two children, Rachel (Dakota Fanning) and Robbie... [More]
Critics Consensus:The Fountain -- a movie about metaphysics, universal patterns, Biblical symbolism, and boundless love spread across one thousand years -- is visually rich but suffers from its own unfocused ambitions.
Synopsis: A man (Hugh Jackman) travels through time on a quest for immortality and to save the woman (Rachel Weisz) he... [More]
Critics Consensus: Danny Boyle continues his descent into mind-twisting sci-fi madness, taking us along for the ride. Sunshine fulfills the dual requisite necessary to become classic sci-fi: dazzling visuals with intelligent action.
Synopsis: In the not-too-distant future, Earth's dying sun spells the end for humanity. In a last-ditch effort to save the planet,... [More]
Critics Consensus: Employing gritty camerawork and evocative sound effects, Invasion of the Body Snatchers is a powerful remake that expands upon themes and ideas only lightly explored in the original.
Synopsis: This remake of the classic horror film is set in San Francisco. Matthew Bennell (Donald Sutherland) assumes that when a... [More]
Critics Consensus:A Quiet Place artfully plays on elemental fears with a ruthlessly intelligent creature feature that's as original as it is scary -- and establishes director John Krasinski as a rising talent.
Synopsis: If they hear you, they hunt you. A family must live in silence to avoid mysterious creatures that hunt by... [More]
Critics Consensus: Fueled by bombastic violence and impressive special effects, rooted in self-satire and deadpan humor, Dredd 3D does a remarkable job of capturing its source material's gritty spirit.
Synopsis: Mega City One is a vast, violent metropolis where felons rule the streets. The only law lies with cops called... [More]
Critics Consensus: Though perhaps not as strong dramatically as it is technologically, TRON is an original and visually stunning piece of science fiction that represents a landmark work in the history of computer animation.
Synopsis: When talented computer engineer Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges) finds out that Ed Dillinger (David Warner), an executive at his company,... [More]
Critics Consensus: Richard Kelly's debut feature Donnie Darko is a daring, original vision, packed with jarring ideas and intelligence and featuring a remarkable performance from Jake Gyllenhaal as the troubled title character.
Synopsis: In a funny, moving and distinctly mind-bending journey through suburban America, one extraordinary but disenchanted teenager is about to take... [More]
Critics Consensus: A faithful adaptation of Philip K. Dick's novel, A Scanner Darkly takes the viewer on a visual and mind-blowing journey into the author's conception of a drug-addled and politically unstable world.
Synopsis: In the near future, as America virtually loses the war on drugs, Robert Arctor, a narcotics cop in Orange County,... [More]
Critics Consensus: The utterly gorgeous special effects frequently overshadow the fact that The Abyss is also a totally gripping, claustrophobic thriller, complete with an interesting crew of characters.
Synopsis: Ed Harris and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio are formerly married petroleum engineers who still have some issues to work out. They... [More]
Critics Consensus: Led by Rupert Wyatt's stylish direction, some impressive special effects, and a mesmerizing performance by Andy Serkis, Rise of the Planet of the Apes breathes unlikely new life into a long-running franchise.
Synopsis: Will Rodman (James Franco), a scientist in San Francisco, is experimenting with a drug that he hopes will cure his... [More]
Critics Consensus: Featuring dazzling, disorienting cinematography from the great James Wong Howe and a strong lead performance by Rock Hudson, Seconds is a compellingly paranoid take on the legend of Faust.
Synopsis: Banker Arthur Hamilton (John Randolph) gets a call one day from a friend he thought was dead. It turns out... [More]
Critics Consensus: Though it's dated in spots, The War of the Worlds retains an unnerving power, updating H.G. Wells' classic sci-fi tale to the Cold War era and featuring some of the best special effects of any 1950s film.
Synopsis: Scientist Clayton Forrester (Gene Barry) and Sylvia Van Buren (Ann Robinson) are the first to arrive at the site of... [More]
Critics Consensus: Smart, thrilling, and surprisingly funny, The Martian offers a faithful adaptation of the bestselling book that brings out the best in leading man Matt Damon and director Ridley Scott.
Synopsis: When astronauts blast off from the planet Mars, they leave behind Mark Watney (Matt Damon), presumed dead after a fierce... [More]
Critics Consensus:Interstellar represents more of the thrilling, thought-provoking, and visually resplendent filmmaking moviegoers have come to expect from writer-director Christopher Nolan, even if its intellectual reach somewhat exceeds its grasp.
Synopsis: In Earth's future, a global crop blight and second Dust Bowl are slowly rendering the planet uninhabitable. Professor Brand (Michael... [More]
Critics Consensus: Propelled by Charlie Kaufman's smart, imaginative script and Michel Gondry's equally daring directorial touch, Eternal Sunshine is a twisty yet heartfelt look at relationships and heartache.
Synopsis: After a painful breakup, Clementine (Kate Winslet) undergoes a procedure to erase memories of her former boyfriend Joel (Jim Carrey)... [More]
Critics Consensus: Playing as both an exciting sci-fi adventure and a remarkable portrait of childhood, Steven Spielberg's touching tale of a homesick alien remains a piece of movie magic for young and old.
Synopsis: After a gentle alien becomes stranded on Earth, the being is discovered and befriended by a young boy named Elliott... [More]
Critics Consensus: Gripping, well-acted, funny, and clever, Edge of Tomorrow offers entertaining proof that Tom Cruise is still more than capable of shouldering the weight of a blockbuster action thriller.
Synopsis: When Earth falls under attack from invincible aliens, no military unit in the world is able to beat them. Maj.... [More]
Critics Consensus: T2 features thrilling action sequences and eye-popping visual effects, but what takes this sci-fi/ action landmark to the next level is the depth of the human (and cyborg) characters.
Synopsis: In this sequel set eleven years after "The Terminator," young John Connor (Edward Furlong), the key to civilization's victory over... [More]
Critics Consensus: Misunderstood when it first hit theaters, the influence of Ridley Scott's mysterious, neo-noir Blade Runner has deepened with time. A visually remarkable, achingly human sci-fi masterpiece.
Synopsis: Deckard (Harrison Ford) is forced by the police Boss (M. Emmet Walsh) to continue his old job as Replicant Hunter.... [More]
Critics Consensus: One of the most influential of all sci-fi films -- and one of the most controversial -- Stanley Kubrick's 2001 is a delicate, poetic meditation on the ingenuity -- and folly -- of mankind.
Synopsis: An imposing black structure provides a connection between the past and the future in this enigmatic adaptation of a short... [More]
This week, Kenneth Branagh brings his interpretation of Agatha Christie’s distinguished detective Hercule Poirot to theaters in Murder on the Orient Express, a stylish period mystery set aboard a passenger train. But Hollywood has a rich history of telling stories on and about trains, almost from the very beginning, so we thought it would make sense to take a look back at the best train movies to grace the silver screen.
In 2007, director David Fincher teamed up with Robert Downey Jr., Mark Ruffalo, and Jake Gyllenhaal on Zodiac, a potent murder mystery about the manhunt for the real life serial killer who terrorized northern California during the 1960s and 1970s. Gyllenhaal earned well-deserved praise for his portrayal of Robert Graysmith, the San Francisco Chronicle political cartoonist who helped decipher the Zodiac’s cryptic letters, but despite the film’s overwhelmingly positive critical reception, it was completely overlooked by the Academy Awards. Now that the film is officially 10 years old to the day, we thought it was the perfect time to look back at star Gyllenhaal’s best-reviewed films… including Zodiac.
Gyllenhaal ventured into romance — of a sort — with 2002’s The Good Girl, a small-town drama from Chuck & Buck screenwriter Mike White that starred Jennifer Aniston as a morose department store clerk struggling to choose between her unsatisfying marriage and her affair with the unstable, Catcher in the Rye-obsessed co-worker played by Gyllenhaal. Infidelity, dead-end jobs, and small towns are nothing new for the movies — indie films in particular — but however familiar its premise, The Good Girl earned praise from critics thanks to the finely wrought honesty of White’s script and strong performances from Aniston, Gyllenhaal, and their supporting cast (including John C. Reilly, Tim Blake Nelson, and Zooey Deschanel). Taking the cliche of a frustrated young man buried in Holden Caulfield and imbuing it with genuine depth, Gyllenhaal was a major part of why the Hollywood Reporter’s Duane Byrge called it “An absorbing, slice-of-depression life that touches nerves and rings true.”
After his 2011 film Incendies earned a heap of acclaim — including a Best Foreign Language Film Oscar nod — French Canadian director Denis Villeneuve made his Hollywood debut with a gripping psychological thriller about a desperate man (Hugh Jackman) driven to extreme measures when his young daughter is abducted with her best friend. While much of the film rested on Jackman’s shoulders, he was supported by a stellar cast that included Viola Davis, Paul Dano, Melissa Leo, and Jake Gyllenhaal as the skeptical detective whose investigation into the disappearance is beset by false leads and a father obsessed with vigilante justice. The end result was a twisty, twisted mystery that impressed more than a few critics, like USA Today’s Claudia Puig, who noted that “the plot raises complicated moral questions about how far an anguished person will go for the love of a child. At the same time, it sets up an intricate, horrifying mystery with breathtaking skill.”
Most critics — and more than a few filmgoers — would agree that the found-footage gimmick has been more than played out since rising to prominence with The Blair Witch Project in the late 1990s. Still, it’s a powerful tool when used in the right way, as demonstrated by writer/director David Ayer’s End of Watch, which follows a cop/film student (Gyllenhaal) and his partner (Michael Pena) on patrol in the mean streets of South Central Los Angeles. While Ayer’s use of the found footage technique certainly proved divisive among critics, End of Watch earned a healthy $51 million at the box office, picked up a pair of Independent Spirit Award nominations, and enjoyed the respect of scribes such as Amy Biancolli of the San Francisco Chronicle, who wrote, “The best scenes are filmed inside the cruiser, dashboard shots that face inward instead of out, catching Gyllenhaal and Peña in moments so playful and true they make all other buddy cops look bogus by comparison.”
Time travel, a falling jet engine, and a dude in a bunny suit: From these disparate ingredients, writer-director Richard Kelly wove the tale of Donnie Darko, a suburban teenager (played by Jake Gyllenhaal) charged with repairing a rift in the fabric of our dimension. Or something. To call Darko “open to interpretation” would be understating the case a bit — it’s been alternately confounding and delighting audiences since it was released in 2001 — but its dense, ambiguous plot found stronger purchase with critics, who cared less about what it all meant than about simply having the chance to see an American movie that took some substantial risks. Though a few reviewers were confused and/or unimpressed (Staci Lynne Wilson of Fantastica Daily called it “derivative,” and Joe Leydon dismissed it as “a discombobulating muddle” in his writeup for the San Francisco Examiner), overall critical opinion proved a harbinger of the cult status the film would eventually enjoy on the home video market; as Thomas Delapa wrote for the Boulder Weekly, “If the sum total of Donnie Darko is hard to figure, there’s no questioning that its separate scenes add up to breathtaking filmmaking.” Despite a paltry $4.1 million gross during its original limited run, Darko returned to theaters in 2004 with a director’s cut — one whose 91 percent Tomatometer actually improved upon the original’s.
Years before he challenged taboos with Brokeback Mountain, Jake Gyllenhaal proved his versatility with script choices like the ones he made in 2001, which found him starring in Donnie Darko, Bubble Boy, and Nicole Holofcener’s Lovely & Amazing. Though Bubble Boy saw the widest release of the three (and some of the harshest reviews of Gyllenhaal’s career), Lovely & Amazing proved he could hold his own with a stellar cast that included Catherine Keener, Emily Mortimer, and Dermot Mulroney — and it proved that he was capable of rising to the challenge of a writer-director known for getting the best out of her actors. Here, Gyllenhaal stars as Jordan, a teenaged one-hour photo developer who earns the adulterous affection of his frustrated (and significantly older) co-worker, played by Catherine Keener. Holofcener’s films are known for focusing on women — and rightly so — but smart dramas need smart performances, and with his empathetic supporting turn here, Gyllenhaal more than held his own. Though it wasn’t a major commercial success, grossing only just over $4.2 million in limited release, Lovely & Amazing enjoyed a number of awards and nominations from critics’ associations, as well as acclaim from scribes such as Terry Lawson of the Detroit Free Press, who wrote, “For all its dirty talk and up-frontness, this is a family film — it’s about one family and the extended family of females. Any woman who sees it will recognize that, and any man who sees it will be better for it.”
Take a heart-wrenching short story by Annie Proulx, give it to award-winning director Ang Lee, and surround him with a rock-solid cast including Heath Ledger, Michelle Williams, Anne Hathaway, and — of course — Jake Gyllenhaal, and you’ve got Brokeback Mountain, one of the most talked-about (and award-winning) movies of 2005. Gyllenhaal and Ledger starred as Jack Twist and Ennis del Mar, a pair of Wyoming ranch hands whose tortured, almost completely unspoken affair has a profound impact on their lives — and the lives of their wives and children — over a period of several decades. Not your everyday Hollywood love story, to put it mildly — and to no one’s surprise, Gyllenhaal and Ledger earned more attention for their characters’ sexuality than for their performances in the roles, with a wide variety of pundits accusing the filmmakers of using Brokeback to further a political agenda; famously, one Utah theater owner canceled his engagement just hours before the first scheduled screening. Underneath all the hubbub, however, shone a beautifully acted love story with uncommon depth and intensity, and both Gyllenhaal and Ledger were richly rewarded for their work with an impressive number of awards and nominations, not to mention a $178 million worldwide gross and reams of critical praise from critics including Colin Covert of the Minneapolis Star Tribune, who wrote, “It has become shorthand to call Brokeback Mountain the ‘gay cowboy movie,’ but it is much more than that glib description implies. This is a human story, a haunting film in the tradition of the great Hollywood romantic melodramas.”
In the hands of an ordinary filmmaker, any attempt to tell the story of the Zodiac Killer might have been equal parts conjecture and garden-variety gore — after all, the serial murderer who terrorized the San Francisco Bay Area for years in the 1960s and 1970s, taunting the police with a series of cryptic letters, eventually disappeared, never to be identified. For director David Fincher, though, the truly interesting story didn’t lie so much with the Zodiac as it did with the men and women who devoted themselves to apprehending him — particularly Robert Graysmith, the San Francisco Chronicle cartoonist who broke the Zodiac’s code and eventually became an asset to the investigation. As the increasingly driven Graysmith, Gyllenhaal led the viewer on a darkening spiral of dead ends, wild goose chases, and grim obsession — and he anchored a showy cast that included Robert Downey, Jr., Mark Ruffalo, Chloe Sevigny, and Anthony Edwards. Unfortunately, the words “David Fincher” and “serial killer drama” sparked hopes that Fincher was returning to his Se7en roots, and the studio’s marketing campaign did nothing to set filmgoers straight; ultimately, despite a strongly positive reaction from critics, Zodiac was a non-starter at the box office, and by the time awards season arrived, this March release was all but forgotten. It deserved better, according to writers like the Toronto Star’s Geoff Pevere, who argued, “It makes you want to study it even more closely, in search of things you might have missed, trailing after leads that flash by in the relentless momentum of going nowhere fast. If you’re not careful, it might make you obsessed.”
It isn’t often that NASA engineers get their own biopics — but then, most of them don’t have life stories as inspiring as Homer Hickam, the West Virginia native whose Sputnik-fueled fascination with rockets turned him into a teen science fair sensation (and, more importantly, helped him avoid working in the local coalmine). Based on Hickam’s autobiographical novel Rocket Boys, Joe Johnston’s 1999 drama October Sky gave audiences a rare slice of critically acclaimed drama during the cold winter months — and it provided a breakout role for Gyllenhaal, whose biggest credits to that point came through parts in a pair of his father Stephen’s movies and minor appearances in City Slickers and Josh and S.A.M. Though he was surrounded with talented co-stars, it fell to Gyllenhaal to carry the movie as the young Hickam and make audiences believe in not only his wide-eyed wonder at the stars, but his struggles with his distant, unsupportive father (played by Chris Cooper); his success was noted by critics such as Jeff Vice of the Deseret News, who correctly predicted that “Even if October Sky was a complete dud, the drama would still get points for being the movie that launched the career of a new star, Jake Gyllenhaal.”
It’s a common complaint that there isn’t any room for original ideas in Hollywood anymore, but every so often, we’re treated to a movie like Source Code that proves an exception to the rule. Helmed by Moon director Duncan Jones from a script by Ben Ripley, this twisty sci-fi thriller follows the adventures of a U.S. Army captain (Gyllenhaal) whose latest mission — to prevent a catastrophic bombing on board a moving train — masks a horrible personal tragedy that his support team is keeping from him. Bolstered by a strong support cast that included Vera Farmiga, Michelle Monaghan, and Jeffrey Wright, and topped off by a thought-provoking ending, Source Code earned the applause of critics like the New Yorker’s David Denby, who wrote, “The movie is a formally disciplined piece of work, a triumph of movie syntax, made with a sense of rhythm and pace, and Gyllenhaal, who is always good at conveying anxiety, gives [his] desperation a comic edge.”
After cutting his teeth writing screenplays for films like The Fall and The Bourne Legacy, Dan Gilroy made his feature directorial debut with Nightcrawler, an uncomfortably tense thriller about a socially awkward man (Gyllenhaal) who finds his calling as an ambulance-chasing freelance videographer. Gilroy spent years reworking his script around the character of Lou Bloom and found a perfect partner in Gyllenhaal, who played an active part in the production of the film, lost nearly 30 pounds for the role, and turned in a powerhouse performance. With help from outstanding supporting players like Rene Russo, Bill Paxton, and Riz Ahmed, Nightcrawler went on to become one of the best-reviewd films of the year and earned Gilroy a Best Original Screenplay nod at the Academy Awards in the process. As Christopher Orr of The Atlantic pointed out, “Gyllenhaal is the same age that De Niro was in Taxi Driver and, like him, he is learning to channel an eerie, inner charisma, offering it up in glimpses and glimmers rather than all at once.”
This week on home video, the dearth of quality releases continues with just a few notables to mention and some real stinkers peppered throughout. We won’t bother to mention the feature adaptation of the video game The King of Fighters (oops, I guess we just did), but we will say that if you’re a big John Belushi fan, you might be interested to know that both The Blues Brothers and Animal House debut on Blu-ray this week. Otherwise, we’ve got Duncan Jones’s critically acclaimed follow-up to Moon, a Certified Fresh Dutch film about World War II, a highly unsuccessful comic book adaptation, and more. See below for the full list!
Aside from being the son of famed rock legend David Bowie, Duncan Jones also happens to be a pretty solid filmmaker. Jones debuted with a bang back in 2009 with the indie sci-fi thriller Moon, which earned rave reviews and marked him as a director to watch. As such, many were curious to see how he would follow up that success, and with this year’s Source Code, Jones outperformed his first film in all respects. Delving once again into mindbending science fiction, Source Code stars Jake Gyllenhaal as Colter Stevens, a decorated war hero who inexplicably awakes and finds himself in the body of another man aboard a commuter train. He eventually discovers he’s part of a larger plan initiated by a secret government agency to identify the perpetrator of a bombing aboard the train, and Stevens must relive the last 8 minutes of his surrogate’s life repeatedly until he unravels the mystery. Critics and audiences both responded well to Source Code, earning it over $121 million at the box office and a Certified Fresh 91% Tomatometer. The film is smart, packed with action, and propelled by a distinctly human story at its core, making it one of the early winners of 2011.
At the other end of the spectrum, far away from Source Code, is Dylan Dog: Dead of Night. Based on a popular Italian comic series begun in the 1980s, Dylan Dog stars Brandon Routh (Superman Returns) as the titular hero, a private investigator working out of New Orleans who specializes in affairs dealing with the undead (you know, vampires, werewolves, and zombies). When a new case is presented to him that might spell doom for mankind, he must do his part to ensure a war between the undead factions never breaks out. This film attempts to capitalize on the recent popularity of its supernatural subject matter, as well as the burgeoning genre of horror-comedy, but by almost all accounts (it only has one Fresh review), it fails miserably. Hampered by bad special effects, acting performances that fall flat, and aggressively derivative concepts, Dylan Dog takes its place among the worst-reviewed films of 2011 thus far with a dismal 3% Tomatometer score. But in the off chance you might find it “so bad, it’s good,” you can check it out this week on home video.
Unless you’re a ravenous connoisseur of foreign cinema, there’s a good chance you’ve not heard of Winter in Wartime, a Dutch thriller set in Holland at the end of World War II. Though it was originally released in its home country in back in 2008, it only made it to the US back in March of this year and received a very limited release (no more than 26 theaters in the country). Based on the 1972 Dutch novel of the same name, the film centers around a young teen named Michiel living in Nazi-occupied Holland who happens upon a wounded British paratrooper and decides to help. As Michiel, whose father is the mayor of his town, is increasingly drawn to the cause of the resistance, he becomes engulfed by the political allegiances that exist among his townspeople, and he must decide where his loyalties lie. Certified Fresh at 77%, Winter in Wartime was shortlisted for the Best Foreign Language Film at the Academy Awards (though it ultimately didn’t make the cut), and back in its native Holland, the film outgrossed blockbusters like Twilight and The Dark Knight. A solid film with some historical context, it should make for a pretty good time for those who are interested.
How exactly does one transition from starring in one of history’s most popular television sitcoms to… whatever comes afterwards? None of the male stars of Friends really found the kind of success that Jennifer Aniston or even Courteney Cox did, but it looks like David Schwimmer knows what he wants to do. After making his feature film directorial debut with Run Fatboy Run, which got mixed reviews, he changed things up a little bit and, for his second feature, went with hard-hitting family drama in Trust. Starring Clive Owen and Catherine Keener as parents of two teens, Trust follows their 14-year-old daughter Annie (Liana Liberato), who suffers sexual abuse at the hands of a thirty-something man posing as a teen boy on the internet. Both the police and Annie’s father begin their own investigations, which lead to heartache and pain for the whole family. While Run Fatboy Run received middling reviews, Schwimmer seems to have proven himself with Trust, which earned praise from critics to the tune of a Certified Fresh 78% tomatometer. Don’t let its “after-school special” vibe fool you; there are some outstanding actors involved, and Schwimmer does a fine job, so it might be worth your time to check out.
Movies about medieval swordplay will never go out of style; there’s just something fascinating about that period of European history and the clash between barbarism and civility. That said, it can be rather difficult to craft an effective period film set in that era, as one must strike a fine balance between the action and the storytelling. Unfortunately, Ironclad focused just a tad too much on the former, and not enough on the latter, according to critics. The film is a dramatization of King John’s siege of Rochester Castle in 1215, during which a group of rebels withstood the army of the King, who had refused to abide by the Magna Carta. Ironclad features a respectable cast, including Paul Giamatti, Brian Cox, James Purefoy, and Kate Mara, but many critics found the film to be too focused on the blood and gore for their liking. As a result, it sports a mediocre 43% on the Tomatometer, but if this sort of period action is your thing, you may still get a good, bloody kick out of it.
It’s pure coincidence that two movies with the word “wartime” in the title are coming out this week on home video, and they are quite different from each other. Here we have the latest from Todd Solondz, a director known for exploring the seedier parts of everyday life through ensemble films; Life During Wartime, a sort of unofficial sequel to his 1998 film Happiness, which had an entirely different cast playing the same characters, is more of the same. This time around, the film focuses on the three sisters first portrayed in Happiness as they continue struggling through life with various personal problems and familial issues. Solondz’s brand of comic satire is decidedly dark and uncomfortable, and as such, his films inevitably rub some the wrong way; since his 1995 critical hit Welcome to the Dollhouse, his movies have received progressively lower Tomatometer scores, with Life During Wartime marking a welcome return to Fresh territory. But if nothing else can be said for Solondz’s body of work, it is certainly thought-provoking, and it’s normally a surefire bet that you won’t walk away from a Todd Solondz film unchanged. His latest is one of the few contemporary films to get the Criterion treatment right off the bat, and it includes an audio Q&A with Solondz and a making-of featurette.
We’ve written at length on multiple occasions about the influence and masterful skill of Japanese director Akira Kurosawa, so we won’t bother with those details again; if you don’t know who he is, suffice it to say you owe it to yourself to check out some of his many masterpieces. That said, we’d also like to point out that period samurai flicks aren’t all that he made, as evidenced by this classic film from 1963. Starring longtime Kurosawa collaborator Toshiro Mifune and based on an “87th Precinct” police procedural novel by Ed McBain called King’s Ransom, High and Low explores the moral conflict endured by a wealthy executive named Kingo Gondo (Mifune) when his chauffeur’s son is mistaken for his own and abducted for ransom. Already caught in the middle of a corporate struggle between two competing factions in his company, Gondo must decide whether or not to pay the ransom, which could spell financial ruin for his family. This week, the Criterion Collection releases a Blu-ray restoration of the film, which already exists in the collection in DVD format, and it includes an audio commentary by Kurosawa scholar Stephen Price, a 37-minute making-of documentary, video interviews with cast members, and more.
Recipe for a sci-fi thriller: take a sprig of Memento, a dash of Groundhog Day, and a pinch of Inception. Mix them together and you’ve got Source Code, which critics say is a smart, suspenseful popcorn flick with excellent performances. Director Duncan Jones’s follow-up to the bleak, haunting Moon, Source Code stars Jake Gyllenhaal as a soldier on a mission: to save a Chicago commuter train from a bomber. One issue: he’s part of a government experiment called the Source Code, in which he can transmogrify into the bodies of others for the last eight minutes of their lives, thereby finding clues as to the identity of the bomber. But can our hero save the day? And who is our hero, anyway? The pundits say the Certified FreshSource Code is multiplex fare of a very high order: it’s challenging, emotionally engaging, and brutally exciting.
Easter’s right around the corner, so it would seem like an ideal time for a family comedy about a bunny battling with an army of chicks for control of the holiday, right? Unfortunately, critics say the CGI/live action hybrid Hop isn’t all that tasty – it might provide some laughs for the little ones, but parents and older siblings won’t find much to enjoy beyond some admittedly impressive animation. The seemingly ubiquitous Russell Brand provides the voice for E.B., a giant hare who ditches his pre-ordained occupation to become a drummer in L.A. After moving in with Fred (James Marsden), our cottontailed hero discovers that a bunch of little chicks are looking to depose his kind from making the annual rounds. The pundits say Hop lacks bounce — it’s short on both quality gags and inspiration, a confection that lacks substance. (Check out this week’s Total Recall, in which we present a list of memorable movie rabbits.)
Insidious‘s setup doesn’t get any points for originality — it’s got a spooky house, creepy children, and a portal to a demonic world. However, it’s not the elements but how you put them together, and critics say Insidious is often a devilishly good time, a film that steadily builds an atmosphere of dread while dishing out shocks with efficiency. Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne star as a young couple who’ve just moved into the perfect house — or so they think until the oldest of their three children falls into a coma, and seems to be attracting evil spirits. The pundits say Insidious is a good old fashioned horror flick crafted with style and smarts — though the film’s ending is a bit of a letdown after a terrific buildup. (Check out our roundup of the creepiest movie children.)
Cat Run, starring Paz Vega in an action/comedy about two average guys who start a detective agency and stumble upon a deadly plot, is at 13 percent.
In director Duncan Jones’ (Moon) new time-twisting sci-fi thriller Source Code, Jake Gyllenhaal plays a soldier sent into a space of eight minutes aboard a train bound for disaster; a temporal pocket he must inhabit over and over until he unravels either the identity of a bomber — or his own. Fortunately he gets to relive those same eight minutes with his delightful co-star Michelle Monaghan, who plays a passenger on the train in possession of a possible key to Jake’s future. Or past. No, wait, is it the future? Yep, it’s one of those cyclical narratives that revels in its sometimes confounding paradoxes. For Monaghan, who Jones cast having liked her in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, it meant playing the same scene, and character, on endless loop; adjusting her performance ever so slightly in reaction to the changing trajectory of Gyllenhaal’s time-tripper. We caught up with the actress, most recently seen in Due Date and Somewhere and soon to star in Marc Forster’s Machine Gun Preacher, and asked her to name her Five Favorite Films. “That’s really hard,” Monaghan laughs, “but I’m sure everybody tells you how hard it is.” Indeed.
My favorite — my number one favorite, actually — is A Woman Under the Influence. [Gena Rowlands] is just… I respect and admire her so much as an actress. I just think that performance is so brave and extraordinary. It was one of those things that, as a woman, as an actress, I kind of appreciate, you know. And also, that film is kind of a really, truly independent film. I think Cassavetes financed it, I think Peter Falk put money into it; kind of no one really believed in it. I was in a film a couple of years ago that a studio would never touch, a movie called Trucker, which was a great opportunity for me; but those sort of movies need to be independently financed.
I really like Fargo a lot. It has everything. I love the Coen brothers. I love Frances McDormand, I think she’s just an extraordinary actress. She’s so funny in that movie, as Marge. I’m from the Midwest, I’m from Iowa; so obviously that accent’s really heightened, but it’s something that I hear every time I go home. It’s something that feels like very much where I grew up; that backdrop is exactly where I grew up. It’s definitely exaggerated but yeah, there’s definitely that, “Oh, oh my gosh” where I come from. And when I go home and after I have a couple of beers you’d probably hear it come out: “You betcha!” [laughs]
I love Christmas Vacation, with Chevy Chase, and Randy Quaid as well. It’s so funny. Juliette Lewis is in there, too — who I think is genius, by the way, in everything that she’s in. That movie, to me, is so funny that every time it plays at Christmas time I inevitably have to watch it. I mean, every scene in that movie is so funny — when that squirrel lands on the toupee of the grandpa; the kid when he gets on the damn saucer and he flies down the hill, I mean, I just think that’s a really cheesy scene. And I love Chevy Chase. Any Chevy Chase. He’s just got a really funny quality about him, and it’s really subtle — he’s got a little twinkle in his eye, he’s really sort of mischievous. I like him. Just the way he carries himself — he’s really animated without being physical.
This movie is still my favorite movie of last year, and I think I have to name it because I just thought it was an extraordinary film and I still think about it a lot. I saw it in the theater and it really hit me like a ton of bricks. I think he’s a really extraordinary director, David Michôd. Ben Mendelsohn and Jackie Weaver — every single performance in that I was so impressed with, but in particular just the direction. That’s a director that I appreciate the sense that he allows his actors to just act and have these really quiet moments, and he really just created this world — the atmosphere of that movie was amazing. For a first film, too. The way that he was able to create a level of tension with actors not really saying much or doing much, it was just what he did with the camera. There are not a lot of films where you can just appreciate the camerawork and what a significant aspect of the whole film it is. It was perfectly curated.
I really like documentaries a lot; maybe more than film. I love this documentary called Hands on a Hard Body. It was made in the 1990s, I think. It’s about this annual event that takes place in Texas — it’s kind of like an endurance test of how long you can keep your hand on a truck. And if you are the last man standing, you get the truck. Literally, you just stand, day and night with your hand on a truck, and there’s like 15 or 20 people all standing there. And it’s such a well-done documentary. They feature each person before the program starts; the director comes in and he asks them questions like, “Why do you want to do this? Why do you want your truck?” and it’s just a real, unique look into people’s lives. It’s really powerful and it’s really moving and it’s kind of funny and odd and bizarre. It goes on for, I think, over 72 hours, and it’s really sad as you see this people dropping out. It says a lot about human endurance.