(Photo by New Line, 20th Century Fox Film Corp./courtesy Everett Collection)

All 21 David Cronenberg Movies Ranked by Tomatometer

Over the course of six decades, David Cronenberg has built a bloody, slimed-over, and warped throne of flesh and bone to sit upon as the king of body horror. His first two films, Stereo and Crimes of the Future, are little-seen, ready for Cronenberg fans to re-discover and find that his obsession with pushing the boundaries of science, sexual perversity, and our oh-so-tenuous grasp on our physical self was present from the beginning.

Rabid and The Brood made more of a squeamish splash with general audiences. And in the ’80s, Cronenberg came into his own: Scanners was all over horror magazines for its legendary exploding head sequence. The Dead Zone contributed to a hot streak of Stephen King adaptations happening across the industry, following Carrie and The Shining. The Fly was the rare excellent remake and had the good sense to parade Jeff Goldblum around in his underwear (and vomit). And Videodrome seemed to best express Cronenberg’s vision of how the self can be utterly compromised by sinister forces.

The ’90s saw Cronenberg experimenting with an expanded dramatic palette (M. Butterfly, Naked Lunch) with varied results, which would pay dividends in the following decade. That’s when he released A History of Violence, which would become his highest-grossing movie, be nominated for two Oscars, and mark the start of a fruitful collaboration with Viggo Mortensen. The actor was nominated for the Oscar in their follow-up Eastern Promises, which boasts a bath house fight that’ll please those who think the tighty-whities Goldblum wore in The Fly were too much clothing. The third Viggo movie was A Dangerous Method, a kinky yet classy flick of psychology that brought in Keira Knightley and Michael Fassbender.

And you know how Robert Pattinson is your new favorite actor, especially after you had written him off for those Twilight movies? You can thank Cronenberg for giving Pattinson the opportunity to do weird roles to shake up his image, in movies like Cosmopolis and Maps to the Stars. Cronenberg has appeared to have retired in recent years with the shifting movie and media landscape. If that’s the case, then it’s been an impressive, influential, and gross – really, really gross – career, which we’re celebrating now with all 21 David Cronenberg movies ranked by Tomatometer!

#21

M. Butterfly (1993)
43%

#21
Adjusted Score: 43035%
Critics Consensus: David Cronenberg reins in his provocative sensibility and handles delicate material with restraint, yielding a disappointing adaptation that flattens M. Butterfly into a tedious soap opera.
Synopsis: René Gallimard (Jeremy Irons) is a diplomat from France who has been sent to Beijing. While acclimating to life in... [More]
Directed By: David Cronenberg

#20

Crash (1996)
63%

#20
Adjusted Score: 66294%
Critics Consensus: Despite the surprisingly distant, clinical direction, Crash's explicit premise and sex is classic Cronenberg territory.
Synopsis: "Crash" is about the strange lure of the auto collision, provoking as it does the human fascination with death and... [More]
Directed By: David Cronenberg

#19

Stereo (1969)
60%

#19
Adjusted Score: 43534%
Critics Consensus: No consensus yet.
Synopsis: Scientists perform surgery which allows humans to communicate through telepathy.... [More]
Directed By: David Cronenberg

#18
#18
Adjusted Score: 36166%
Critics Consensus: No consensus yet.
Synopsis: A man (Ronald Mlodzik) takes a bizarre journey while searching for a kidnapped 5-year-old girl.... [More]
Directed By: David Cronenberg

#17
#17
Adjusted Score: 67126%
Critics Consensus: Narratively unwieldy and tonally jumbled, Maps to the Stars still has enough bite to satisfy David Cronenberg fans in need of a coolly acidic fix.
Synopsis: Driven by an intense need for fame and validation, members of a dysfunctional Hollywood dynasty have lives as dramatic as... [More]
Directed By: David Cronenberg

#16

Cosmopolis (2012)
66%

#16
Adjusted Score: 72805%
Critics Consensus: Though some may find it cold and didactic, Cosmopolis benefits from David Cronenberg's precise direction, resulting in a psychologically complex adaptation of Don DeLillo's novel.
Synopsis: A 28-year-old billionaire (Robert Pattinson) senses his empire collapsing around him as he takes a limo ride across Manhattan to... [More]
Directed By: David Cronenberg

#15

Naked Lunch (1991)
69%

#15
Adjusted Score: 70134%
Critics Consensus: Strange, maddening, and at times incomprehensible, Naked Lunch is nonetheless an engrossing experience.
Synopsis: Blank-faced bug killer Bill Lee (Peter Weller) and his dead-eyed wife, Joan (Judy Davis), like to get high on Bill's... [More]
Directed By: David Cronenberg

#14

Rabid (1977)
76%

#14
Adjusted Score: 77784%
Critics Consensus: No consensus yet.
Synopsis: Surgery leaves a Montreal motorcyclist (Marilyn Chambers) with a bloodsucking appendage in her armpit.... [More]
Directed By: David Cronenberg

#13

eXistenZ (1999)
74%

#13
Adjusted Score: 76805%
Critics Consensus: Gooey, slimy, grotesque fun.
Synopsis: Video game designer Allegra Geller (Jennifer Jason Leigh) has created a virtual reality game called eXistenZ. After a crazed fan... [More]
Directed By: David Cronenberg

#12

Scanners (1981)
70%

#12
Adjusted Score: 72537%
Critics Consensus: Scanners is a dark sci-fi story with special effects that'll make your head explode.
Synopsis: Scanners are men and women born with incredible telepathic and telekinetic powers. There are many who exercise the benefits of... [More]
Directed By: David Cronenberg

#11
#11
Adjusted Score: 85262%
Critics Consensus: A provocative historical fiction about the early days of psychoanalysis, A Dangerous Method is buoyed by terrific performances by Michael Fassbender, Keira Knightley, and Viggo Mortensen.
Synopsis: In 1904 a Russian woman named Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley) arrives at Carl Jung's (Michael Fassbender) clinic, seeking treatment for... [More]
Directed By: David Cronenberg

#10

Videodrome (1983)
78%

#10
Adjusted Score: 82397%
Critics Consensus: Visually audacious, disorienting, and just plain weird, Videodrome's musings on technology, entertainment, and politics still feel fresh today.
Synopsis: As the president of a trashy TV channel, Max Renn (James Woods) is desperate for new programming to attract viewers.... [More]
Directed By: David Cronenberg

#9

The Brood (1979)
84%

#9
Adjusted Score: 85545%
Critics Consensus: The Brood is a grotesque, squirming, hilariously shrill exploration of the bizarre and deadly side of motherhood.
Synopsis: A mad doctor (Oliver Reed) tries psychoplasmic therapy on a raging woman (Samantha Eggar) soon to be a mother.... [More]
Directed By: David Cronenberg

#8

Dead Ringers (1988)
83%

#8
Adjusted Score: 85759%
Critics Consensus: Dead Ringers serves up a double dose of Jeremy Irons in service of a devilishly unsettling concept and commandingly creepy work from director David Cronenberg.
Synopsis: Elliot (Jeremy Irons), a successful gynecologist, works at the same practice as his identical twin, Beverly (also Irons). Elliot is... [More]
Directed By: David Cronenberg

#7

Spider (2002)
85%

#7
Adjusted Score: 88340%
Critics Consensus: Ralph Fiennes is brilliant in this accomplished and haunting David Cronenberg film.
Synopsis: Released after decades in a sanitarium, schizophrenic Dennis "Spider" Cleg (Ralph Fiennes) moves into Mrs. Wilkinson's (Lynn Redgrave) halfway house... [More]
Directed By: David Cronenberg

#6
#6
Adjusted Score: 95698%
Critics Consensus: A History of Violence raises compelling and thoughtful questions about the nature of violence, while representing a return to form for director David Cronenberg in one of his more uncharacteristic pieces.
Synopsis: When a pair of petty criminals attempt to rob his small-town diner, Tom Stall (Viggo Mortensen) quickly and easily kills... [More]
Directed By: David Cronenberg

#5

Shivers (1975)
85%

#5
Adjusted Score: 85816%
Critics Consensus: Shivers uses elementally effective basic ingredients to brilliant effect - and lays the profoundly unsettling foundation for director David Cronenberg's career to follow.
Synopsis: After a scientist living in a posh apartment complex slaughters a teen girl and kills himself, investigators discover that the... [More]
Directed By: David Cronenberg

#4

Fast Company (1979)
88%

#4
Adjusted Score: 28773%
Critics Consensus: No consensus yet.
Synopsis: After his sponsor replaces him with his archrival, a race-car driver decides to steal the car and race it himself.... [More]
Directed By: David Cronenberg

#3

Eastern Promises (2007)
89%

#3
Adjusted Score: 97623%
Critics Consensus: David Cronenberg triumphs again, showcasing the Viggo Mortensen's onscreen prowess in a daring performance. Bearing the trademarks of psychological drama and gritty violence, Eastern Promises is a very compelling crime story.
Synopsis: Nikolai (Viggo Mortensen), who is both ruthless and mysterious, has ties to one of the most dangerous crime families in... [More]
Directed By: David Cronenberg

#2

The Dead Zone (1983)
90%

#2
Adjusted Score: 93080%
Critics Consensus: The Dead Zone combines taut direction from David Cronenberg and and a rich performance from Christopher Walken to create one of the strongest Stephen King adaptations.
Synopsis: When Johnny Smith (Christopher Walken) awakens from a coma caused by a car accident, he finds that years have passed,... [More]
Directed By: David Cronenberg

#1

The Fly (1986)
93%

#1
Adjusted Score: 98490%
Critics Consensus: David Cronenberg combines his trademark affinity for gore and horror with strongly developed characters, making The Fly a surprisingly affecting tragedy.
Synopsis: When scientist Seth Brundle (Jeff Goldblum) completes his teleportation device, he decides to test its abilities on himself. Unbeknownst to... [More]
Directed By: David Cronenberg

Just when you thought David Cronenberg couldn’t surprise you, here comes Cosmopolis, a hallucinatory express ride into modern oblivion that’s unlike anything in the director’s already distinct body of work. Adapted from Don DeLillo’s 2003 novella, the movie follows the surreal odyssey of Eric Packer (Robert Pattinson), a 28-year-old billionaire fund manager cocooned in his stretch limousine as it crawls through a nightmare landscape of New York City on the verge of financial and social apocalypse. Ostensibly en route to get a haircut — personal grooming being paramount as the world implodes — Packer soon finds himself in a spiral of self-destruction, as Cronenberg orchestrates a rhythmic trance in which money, information and technology acquire a meaninglessness and only derailed acts of sex and violence appear real.

Perhaps the most fascinating element to Cosmopolis is the performance of its star, Robert Pattinson. Having previously stepped sideways from his teen-idol status to mixed effect, Pattinson here throws himself fearlessly into Cronenberg’s world, delivering an unforgettable, almost alien-like portrait of a young man disconnected from reality and willfully engineering his own spectacular demise.

We had a chance to speak with Cronenberg earlier this week, during which he shared his thoughts about the film and how he came to cast Pattinson in particular.


Congratulations on Cosmopolis, David. It is a wonderfully strange film, even by your standards — and I mean that in the most complimentary way.

David Cronenberg: [Laughs] Thanks.

I’m sure you’re quite weary of answering this question, but we do need to get it out of the way…

Cronenberg: Sure.

Robert Pattinson. There were plenty of people who were a little surprised when you picked him for the role, but I have to say he gives a really sublime performance. You knew what you were doing, clearly — so what was it that drew you to Robert?

Cronenberg: Well, casting always starts in a very pragmatic way. It’s, “Is this guy the right age for the character?” “Does he have the right sort of physique, the right screen presence?” “Is he available, and if so, can you afford him? Does he want to do it?” You know, all of those things. But then you do your homework as a director, more specifically, and you watch stuff. I watched Little Ashes, in which Rob plays a young Salvador Dali; I watched Remember Me; I watched the first Twilight movie. And I watched — interestingly enough, I suppose, because people wouldn’t expect it — but you watch interviews with the guy on YouTube, you know. I want to get an idea of his sense of humor, his sense of himself, the way he handles himself, his intelligence — all of those things you can’t really tell from watching an actor play a role in a movie. I suppose in the old days you meet the guy and hang out, and go to a bar or whatever — [laughs] — but these days nobody has time for that, or the money, and so you do it some other way. And once I’d done all that stuff, I thought, This is the guy I want. I thought, He’d be terrific and I actually think he’s a very underrated actor — and it would be my pleasure to prove that by casting him.

I think a lot of people will share that opinion after seeing the film. Was he difficult to get? I mean, he’s clearly up for it, based on his performance, but how do you go about getting Robert Pattinson?

Cronenberg: Basically, I wrote the script before I went into production on A Dangerous Method, so Rob got the script about a year before we were really shooting. He’s a very down to earth guy, and he was surprised that anybody would want him. [Laughs] It sounds odd, I know. Of course, he knows that his name adds value because of his star power, but he knew my movies, and he knew I was a serious director, and I think he was nervous, you know — I think he was afraid, because he knew it was good. He immediately loved the script, especially because he thought it was very funny — and the movie is funny; a lot of people maybe don’t see that the first time around — and the script was funny as well. But also he had seen enough of the now conventional stuff that he gets offered to see how different this was, and how it stood out — and the quality of Don’s writing, because the dialogue is really 100 per cent from the novel.

So I really had to convince him that I knew he was the right guy and that he could do it. And you’d be very surprised that a lot of actors, and very experienced ones, too — not just young ones — they worry that they don’t want to wreck your movie. They don’t want to be the bad thing in your movie that brings it down. They need to be convinced that they’re good enough, especially if they know it’s good. He said — and I know this ’cause of interviews that we’ve done together, and I hear him saying these things — that usually the dialogue is so bad that you, the actor, figure that you are responsible for trying to make it interesting, just by the way you spin it. But in this case the dialogue was great, and it’s a completely reversed worry: “Am I good enough to get the best out of this?” So it took me about 10 days, and Rob said he was afraid to call me back because he’s used to bullshitting directors, like all actors do — but because I’d written the script he couldn’t do that with me. [Laughs] You know, actors can really tie themselves in knots, when really he just should’ve said, “Yes, I’ll do it.”

Was there a point during shooting where he realized, “Hey, I am good enough for this,” or did you have to encourage him constantly?

Cronenberg: No, it’s not like he’s so insecure or anything like that. I never saw any of that on the set. I know he was constantly checking himself out and wondering if it was good, but I didn’t feel that he needed an inordinate amount of that kind of encouragement, really. We just did it. He could tell. The best way for an actor to tell, ultimately, is that it wasn’t long before we were just doing one or two takes of everything — and that means the actor knows it’s working.

Well it appears that you’ve started something of a trend now David, because Werner Herzog has just cast him in his next film.

Cronenberg: Well that pleases me no end, and I think that obviously this is what Rob needs. They just need to see that he’s really, really good and really, really subtle; and that he can do a lot of different stuff. Once you break through that barrier then I think there’ll be no turning back.

Speaking of the dialogue in the film, this is the first screenplay that you’ve written yourself since eXistenZ [1999]. What was it that made you want to write this one? Was it that you felt an affinity with DeLillo’s writing?

Cronenberg: I actually didn’t think that I was writing the screenplay. What I was doing was, I thought: This dialogue is fantastic. I wonder what it’s like when it’s extracted from the other stuff in the novel, which is very literary and is sort of internal monologues and philosophical meditations inside Eric’s head, stuff that you knew would not be on screen in a movie, because it’s literary and it cannot be directly translated. So I thought, Let me just transcribe this dialogue, word for word, as it is, in sequence, and put it into a screenplay format with characters’ names and so on — and then I’ll read it and see if it feels like a movie to me. And by the end of it — and it was only six days later — I read it, I had it done, and I said, “Yeah, actually, not only is it a movie, it’s a good movie that I really want to do — and here’s the screenplay.” Much to my surprise. So it was six days to write the screenplay, which I give all that credit to Don DeLillo, not to me. Every time you write a screenplay it’s different. I’d never done that before.

So you were channeling DeLillo, so to speak?

Cronenberg: Sure, yes. Well it wasn’t exactly channeling because it was a very direct relationship with the specifics of the book. Unlike Naked Lunch [1991], where I was sort of channeling Burroughs because what I was writing wasn’t exactly Naked Lunch the novel but Naked Lunch: The Story of William Burroughs Writing the Novel, you know. That was different. That felt more like channeling. And I was inventing a lot dialogue for the movie Naked Lunch, although it feels very Burroughsian, because of the channeling. Here, it was not like that. This was very direct.

There’s been a lot commentary on how heavy the dialogue is in the movie, but what I found fascinating is that the dialogue becomes this kind of noise, and very cinematic in a way. Were you concerned about the amount of dialogue when you were making the film?

Cronenberg: Well for me this was a hardcore art film — there were to be no compromises. [Laughs] I really wanted Don’s dialogue to be on screen, even when it’s kind of meditative, philosophical monologue. There was no question, ever, in my mind that I would compromise that to make it “more accessible,” because I thought that would just destroy the reason for doing the movie in the first place. But I agree with you completely, and I think that’s very well-observed — at a certain point the audience shouldn’t worry about catching every word and understanding every twist and turn, because at a certain point that’s pretty much impossible. I think if you see the movie a couple of time it does all make sense, and it’s all actually really interesting, the meditations on the future of capitalism and how that all reflects back on to the present, and so on, and the future of money — quotes like, “Money has lost its narrative value,” things like that, which are hard to absorb on the fly. But if the audience lets that stuff wash over them, you know — almost like music, rather than dialogue — and doesn’t fight it, then I think they’ll have a much easier time rather than being sort of frustrated and confused otherwise. But if you get in the right state of mind it really does work quite well, I think.

Yeah, I completely agree. I look forward to seeing it again, but the first time I felt like I was being whipped into a kind of blank frenzy. I loved how the Samantha Morton character would give all this exposition and then issue the line, I think it was, “But I do not understand it.” That was very funny.

Cronenberg: [Laughs] Yes.

What’s also interesting in the film is that everybody seems to be talking at each other, yet never connecting on any level.

Cronenberg: Yes. That’s correct. And that’s in the nature of what Don was doing. None of these people really relate on a normal human level. They’ve sort of created a weird abstraction, a bubble, a vacuum, and that’s sort of represented by the limo — it’s a strange, disconnected space. It has every sort of luxury and amenity and technological gadget and it’s really disconnected from the sight and the sound of the city that it’s traveling through, and that represents the way that they construct their lives. It’s sort of interesting that one of the investors in this movie is a genuine French billionaire who deals with billions of dollars or trading and so on; he really wanted to be connected with this movie because he said it was absolutely accurate — he deals all the time with people who are exactly like Eric Packer. They live in a bubble, a strange virtual reality that they’ve created, and they really don’t know how to relate to people on a normal level, you know. [Laughs] So here you have a guy who doesn’t really know how to talk to his wife when they’re having dinner. He says, “So this is how people talk to their wives, isn’t it?’ That kind of thing. And a guy who deals with billions of dollars worth of trading but never actually touches real money, and barely knows how people actually spend real money out on the street. And so of course the dialogue does reflect that.

He only seems to connect with people on a very primal, and often violent, level — be it sex, murder… or getting a haircut. That seems to be the only way in which he can cut through all the other stuff. Is that him devolving, his desire for self-destruction?

Cronenberg: Yeah, well I think that during the course of this day… and he does say, at the end, to the Paul Giamatti character [Benno Levin], “I think my life has changed during the course of this day” — and it really has. He’s going to get a haircut, but he’s really also going to get a haircut from the barber who first cut his hair when he was a little kid, and used to cut his father’s hair, and I think the suggestion is that he is trying to deconstruct his present life so that he can go back to his origins and perhaps reassemble it in a different way. But that doesn’t quite work. It doesn’t quite gel. I think when he’s sitting in the barber’s chair, certainly at the beginning, he is like a child. That’s the lovely thing about Rob’s performance, you really see the vulnerability; underneath it all there’s this kind of childlike sweetness there for a moment or two. It’s a very beautifully layered performance. But that’s not working — and the current Eric Packer takes over. He has to do extreme things to be able to feel anything and to be able to feel excitement and to feel alive. So that’s what leads him to the end scene with Paul Giamatti.

There’s a really magic shot in the film — perhaps my favorite moment in his performance, also — when he’s stumbling down the alley with the gun, and he’s looking for Paul Giamatti, and there’s this particular look that comes over his face in that one moment and you can see his derangement. It was really wonderfully played.

Cronenberg: Yeah, it was beautiful. It was the only take that Rob did exactly that on, and I thought, Well that’s the take. It was unexpected. I mean, Rob was constantly surprising me, I have to tell you, with things like that. Lovely, lovely things that were spontaneous but dead-on.

[Warning: Spoilers.]

I know you shy away from analyzing your body of work as a whole, but one thing I did notice was that the end of the film seemed to be a very eerie echo of that final shot in Videodrome [1983].

Cronenberg: Yes.

Was that something conscious, or did it just seep through? It seemed like the Paul Giamatti character was almost like Robert Pattinson’s equivalent of the “gun hand” that James Woods has in Videodrome.

Cronenberg: Yeah, I was aware of it. And yet, the difference in Videodrome is that you hear the shot. [Laughs] There’s no question who could have done that. With Cosmopolis it was different in that I really loved the idea that they were sort of frozen together in this eternal moment of suspended animation, where you don’t really know quite what’s gonna happen. Obviously in the book, from Benno’s journal, you know that Eric is dead — at least if you believe Benno, and maybe he is too unreliable a narrator to believe. But in the book you certainly get the feeling that Eric dies at the end. In a way, I couldn’t bear to do that. [Laughs] And I like that sort of suspended moment. So that is the opposite, in a way, of Videodrome, and yet the structure of it is the same — and I was aware of it. I wasn’t trying to replicate it, though it happened really very naturally, and really pretty much as it’s described in the book, I have to say.

You’ve found a new kind of ambiguity there, I guess.

Cronenberg: I know, and for students of Cronenbergalia — [laughs] — it is an interesting thing to notice.

[Laughs] I’m sure many pages will be written about it.

Cronenberg: [Laughs] Thank you.


Cosmopolis opens in select theaters this week.


The home video releases for this week are sort of all over the place, so bear with us. To kick things off, we have a critically panned kid flick, a solid hit from David Cronenberg, and a Best Picture nominee that induced a lot of head-scratching. After that, we’ve got Angelina Jolie’s directorial debut, a well received doc on Roger Corman, a couple of notable Criterion Collection selections, and a bona fide classic getting a brand new anniversary edition. Without further ado, here’s this week’s list:



Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked

12%

The Alvin and the Chipmunks franchise isn’t exactly held up as a paragon of contemporary cinema, but even for its low standards, its latest installment, Chipwrecked, failed on pretty much every level. In this third animated/live-action romp, the titular trio and their female counterparts are stranded on a deserted island when a parasailing mishap leads them astray; caretaker Dave (Jason Lee) and his old boss Ian (David Cross) work together to locate and rescue their furry friends. Critics largely found the film forgettable, with recycled humor and lazy writing that made for an obnoxious and unfunny moviegoing experience. But, as with so many movies of this nature, we must keep in mind that grown up film critics are not the target audience here, and most concede that if you’re just looking for something mindless to keep your very young children at bay for a couple of hours, this might do the trick.



A Dangerous Method

78%

For his third collaboration with director David Cronenberg (A History of Violence, Eastern Promises), Viggo Mortensen took on the role of famed psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud, playing opposite Michael Fassbender (who was in, like, half of all the movies released in 2011) as his younger colleague Carl Jung and Keira Knightley as Sabina Spielrein, the woman who came between them. With that kind of pedigree and its provocative subject matter, A Dangerous Method picked up some early awards buzz that unfortunately burned off by the time the Oscars came around, though Mortensen did pick up a Best Supporting Actor nomination at the Golden Globes. As for the critical reception, the film currently holds a Certified Fresh 78% on the Tomatometer, with most praising the performances from its distinguished three leads. If historical drama and psychosexual tension are your thing, this one’s definitely worth a look.



Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close

45%

Considering it was based on the novel of the same name by Jonathan Safran Foer, the young writer whose success has polarized a portion of the literary community, it’s not surprising that Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close has had nearly the same effect on film critics. The only film nominated for this year’s Best Picture Oscar that didn’t sport a Fresh rating (in fact, the only one that wasn’t Certified Fresh), Extremely Loud stars former Kids Jeopardy! winner-turned-actor Thomas Horn as Oskar Schell, son of a 9/11 victim (Tom Hanks), who must learn to cope with life in the wake of his father’s death. A year after the tragedy, when Oskar discovers a mysterious key among his father’s belongings, he sets out to discover what it unlocks. Extremely Loud split critics nearly right down the middle, scoring a 47% on the Tomatometer, with most of them noting that there’s a worthy story to tell, but that director Stephen Daldry (Billy Elliot, The Reader) tells it in such a pretentious and shamelessly sentimental fashion as to make it distasteful.



In the Land of Blood and Honey

57%

After spending years in front of the camera as one of the most sought after A-list actresses, Angelina Jolie decided to take a shot at operating behind it, making her writing and directing debut with In the Land of Blood and Honey. Set in Bosnian War-era Sarajevo, Blood and Honey is a dark, disturbing story of star crossed love between a Serbian soldier (Goran Kostic) and his former flame (Zana Marjanovic), a Muslim woman now forced into sexual slavery in the camp he oversees. Jolie drew upon her experiences as UN ambassador for inspiration, and while the film just missed Freshness at 57%, most critics were willing to acknowledge her ambition in the project, noting that even if parts of the story were stretched too thin, the film marked a confidant debut for her. Filmed overseas with local actors from the surrounding regions, it’s not the glamorous Hollywood fare normally associated with Jolie’s acting roles, but it’s an intriguing film, if only to see what potential Jolie might possess as a filmmaker.



Corman’s World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel

92%

This may not necessarily apply to our rather knowledgeable readership here on RT, but for those unfamiliar, Roger Corman may very well be the most influential director you’ve never heard of (or, if the name sounds familiar, you don’t know why). The king of low-budget cinema, Corman began his B-movie career back in the 1950s and came to prominence in the ’60s and ’70s, when he pretty much ruled the cult movie circuit, working with a number of notable actors (Jack Nicholson, Robert De Niro, Dennis Hopper) and directors (Martin Scorsese, James Cameron, Francis Ford Coppola) “before they were famous.” Corman’s World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel, Certified Fresh at 90%, is last year’s documentary chronicling Corman’s illustrious career, and critics say that while it may not offer as complete a picture as some enthusiasts might hope, it’s nevertheless an affectionate, informative, and, above all, entertaining look at a cinematic giant who has touched more lives than many realize.



A Night to Remember – Criterion Collection

100%

Before James Cameron brought us his Oscar juggernaut Titanic in 1997 (coincidentally set to reopen in 3D next week), there was Roy Ward Baker’s A Night to Remember, released in 1958 and based on the non-fiction book of the same title by Walter Lord. Though its modest production values were nowhere near as lavish as Cameron’s film, it has long been thought of as one of the most accurate portrayals of the famous maritime tragedy, employing a social sensitivity and quiet elegance to tell its story. One of Criterion’s earliest DVD releases, A Night to Remember gets a brand new high definition transfer on DVD and Blu-ray, with special features like an hourlong making-of documentary, a Swedish documentary from 1962 featuring interviews with actual survivors, another 60-minute documentary by the BBC, and, of course, a commentary track by a Titanic scholar. It’s a great film and a perfect alternative for those put off by the romantic angle of Cameron’s version.



David Lean Directs Noël Coward – Criterion Collection

David Lean is best known for historical epics like Lawrence of Arabia, Doctor Zhivago, and The Bridge on the River Kwai, but the celebrated English editor-turned-director got his first big break behind the camera for 1942’s In Which We Serve, written by playwright Noël Coward. Though Coward received most of the accolades for the successful wartime film, the two went on to work together on their next three films, all adaptations of Coward plays directed by Lean: This Happy Breed (1944), Blithe Spirit (1945), and Brief Encounter (1945). This week, the good people over at the Criterion Collection have made it easy for novices to dive into these masterful collaborations by collecting all four in a set called, simply, David Lean Directs Noël Coward. The films are treats in themselves, but the set also comes equipped with extras like short making-of documentaries, interviews, a commentary track for Brief Encounter, and TV docs on both Lean’s and Coward’s careers.



Casablanca – 70th Anniversary Limited Collector’s Edition Blu-Ray

99%

Casablanca is one of those rare classics deserving of every ounce of praise that’s been heaped upon it. It’s suspenseful, witty, heartbreaking, dreamy, and wildly entertaining — as close to perfect as classic Hollywood gets. In fact, Casablanca has left such an indelible mark on the history of cinema that even if you’ve never seen it, you could probably quote large swaths of its wonderful dialogue verbatim: “Play it, Sam. Play ‘As Time Goes By.'” “Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.” “Here’s looking at you, kid.” Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman give career-defining performances as Rick and Ilsa, perhaps the screen’s most iconic couple; he’s a cynical expat saloon owner, and she’s the wife of a freedom fighter looking to secure his safe passage into America. They shared a great love once; now, can they get past their feelings and work together for a greater cause? The Casablanca 70th Anniversary Limited Edition Blu-ray and DVD does this classic proud, with a sparkling new transfer of the film plus oodles of extras, including deleted scenes, a bunch of documentaries about the making of the movie and its key participants, and audio commentaries.

Of all the North American directors to emerge in the 1970s, few have been as consistent — and consistently fascinating — as Canadian auteur David Cronenberg, the man whose imagination unleashed Videodrome, The Fly, Crash and A History of Violence (to name just a few). While his contemporaries may have courted bigger commercial and critical success, Cronenberg’s thematic vision — whether he’s working in genre horror, literary adaptation, or his recent gangster cycle — has remained singular and endlessly rewarding.

Cronenberg’s new film, A Dangerous Method, represents something of an origin piece in his universe, returning to a pivotal moment in the birth of modern psychiatry that predicts the obsession with repressed sexuality, violence and the subconscious so prevalent in his work. Sexual freak du jour Michael Fassbender stars as the young Carl Jung, a doctor whose relationship with his noted mentor, Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen), is complicated via an emotional tryst with a deranged patient — and aspiring headshrinker — Sabina Spielrein, performed with acrobatic terror by Keira Knightley. “I sought to make an elegant film that trades on emotional horror,” says Cronenberg. Be afraid, period drama. Be very afraid. We met the director in Los Angeles recently, where he shared his thoughts on psychiatry, hysteria, the connections between his movies… and cigars.


I’ve been immersing myself in some of your films over the last few days, and here you are.

David Cronenberg: Well you seem to be stable still, so it probably hasn’t done too much damage.

I grew up watching them, so the damage has been done.

[Laughs] Oh.

You were saying around the time of Spider that you weren’t interested in a textbook study of Freud, and this certainly isn’t one, either. What was the angle that enticed you on A Dangerous Method?

Well, friends of mine have pointed out that the first film I ever did was a seven minute short called Transfer, and it was about a psychiatrist and a patient. That was the very first film I wrote and made. So I’ve come to think of [A Dangerous Method] as this invention of a brand new relationship that never existed before; that is, the relationship between an analyst and a patient. We think of it now as being almost as primordial as a family relationship, but actually it’s quite odd, you know: you go to someone that you’ve never met, a stranger, and you tell him your most intimate, embarrassing secrets and he has a sort of clinical distance on it and then you gradually begin to project on to him the emotional connections you have to other people. It’s quite odd. And it’s quite interesting. And it’s become a kind of basic human relationship, but it never existed before — and in some countries it still doesn’t, but in the West, certainly. So I think that’s part of the core of it; that is to say that Freud has influenced us in ways that are quite unusual and that we aren’t completely aware of. I don’t think we’re remotely finished with Freud.

When I read [screenwriter Christopher Hampton’s] play, it felt like the creation of modern relationships, of modernity. That these two men, these professional men, very highly respected and living in a very relatively repressed and controlled era — which is also a fascination for me, that era in Central Europe just before the First World War — would talk about the most intimate things. You see that in the movie. They talk about bodily fluids and orifices and organs and erotic dreams and sexuality in a way that men of that era, especially of that class, would never talk to each other about; it was just inappropriate and not done. Now, you know, we accept this, but at the time it was unheard of — really quite earthshaking and revolutionary. And then, when Sabina appeared, she did the same thing as a woman, speaking to men, also about her eroticism and her masochism. Because they were their own first subjects, that was the thing that was also intriguing; that’s why I have Sabina observing herself in the mirror while she’s having this S&M sex, because she would have observed herself. They had no other subjects to begin with. When Freud wrote about the interpretation of dreams it was his dreams that he was using as the subject matter because that’s all he had at the time. They were just starting off and inventing this thing, psychoanalysis. All of that was intriguing to me.

They were pioneers, out on the edge and experimenting on themselves — like many of your other scientist protagonists; Seth Brundle being perhaps the most famous example.

Yeah. I mean, it’s obvious that I’m interested in characters whose intellect leads them to places that are perhaps not socially acceptable, or to new places. I’ve come to think that, for example, psychoanalysis and art do similar things in some ways. I don’t really think of art as therapy — that’s not what I mean. What I mean is that the psychoanalyst and the artist, we’re presented an official version of reality that the culture kind of generates, but we say, “Okay, that’s good for as far as it goes, but what’s really going on under the hood?” And we dive underneath, we go underneath and we find the springs and levers; we find the hidden motivations, the dark things that people don’t talk about or don’t understand, and we look for that and try and bring it out. So I think that, in a way then, these scientists and doctors of mine are sort of circuits for artists or just, you know, for my projection — of what I think I’m doing.

It’s interesting that you bring up Transfer, because the relationship in the film — like that in A Dangerous Method — is a patient stalking their psychiatrist.

Basically the only relationship he’s had, that means anything to him, is the relationship he has to his psychoanalyst, yeah.

Was there a sense of having come full circle in your career when people reminded you of it?

Well, as I say, until a close friend had pointed it out, I’d forgotten about that. I wasn’t even thinking about it. And this is something that comes up a lot, but basically I don’t really think about my other movies when I’m making movies; they’re completely irrelevant to me — to this movie. Whatever movie I’m making, the only thing that I bring with me from the other movies is my confidence in the craft, you know — I know how to make movies; I’ve done those things — but I don’t think about them thematically, or how they connect thematically; that actually, creatively doesn’t give me anything in order to make this movie, you understand what I mean?

Sure.

After the fact you can step back and say, “Wow, that’s an interesting parallel.” For example, I can say this. I can say Freud, okay: In one way, what Freud did was to insist on the reality of the human body. At a time when the body was covered up and cloaked and people wore stiff rigid collars and women wore corsets, he was talking about orifices and bodily fluids and the sexual abuse of children and incest and stuff, and so that connects him to me and my other movies — because for me, I’ve said in the past, the first fact of human existence is the human body. But when I was making the movie, when I was attracted to it, that thought was not anywhere in my mind. So that’s me sort of stepping back and being an analyst of my own work — which comes out when people ask, really. It’s not something that I automatically just do for fun. But it also is not something that I bring to the movie, you know; I don’t really bring that to the movie, because really, creatively, what would that give me? It doesn’t really give me anything. I get excited about this movie for itself, and the research involved into these characters. That’s what motivates me and excites me.

It is curious how things do recur in your films. For example, when Sabina is playing with her food in A Dangerous Method, it reminded me so much of Judy Davis kneading the typewriter flesh in Naked Lunch.

Oh yes. But I absolutely never thought of it. I haven’t really looked at Naked Lunch since I made it, so I don’t even 100 per cent remember it, you know. I don’t deny that those things are there, and I don’t deny that they’re interesting, but as I say, a lot of people think that I go into a movie with a checklist of things that must be there for me to make the movie, and they’re all connected to my other movies. But I absolutely don’t. It’s all intuitive and instinctive.

You’ve now done three films in a row with Viggo, which is a relatively long actor collaboration for you. What is about Viggo that works so well with you?

We’ve become close friends, and that’s interesting, because I don’t have too many actors who are actual friends — who I would go out to eat with, and would want to see, even if we weren’t talking about a particular movie. And that’s just happened by accident. We seem to mesh in an interesting way and we have great affection for each other. On the other hand, you don’t do an actor a favor by miscasting him — so he’s not in Cosmopolis. But on the other hand — yet again, on the other hand — I feel that I have some insights into him that maybe he doesn’t have, because of our closeness. He didn’t think he was right for Freud. He turned me down at first, but eventually I convinced him by pointing out the kind of Freud that we were creating.

Which was?

Which was Freud at the age of 50, not at the age of 80. Not the stern, grandfatherly Freud, but the Freud who was described by Stefan Zweig in his book World of Yesterday as being masculine, handsome, charming, witty, funny… you know, and when you start to think of Freud that way, at the height of his powers, then suddenly Viggo’s not such strange casting — as it proves, I think, in the movie. We’re showing a Freud that is not normally thought of, or depicted.

And then he really got into it.

Well the thing is — and this is a thing I knew about Viggo — once he commits, he’s committed. He’s incredibly loyal to the project, to the character, to the movie. Once he committed there was never any going back; it was full on, “Let’s do research of the Viggo kind” — which is very deep, to say the least. He’d send 25 emails of Freud’s cigars, you know, with pictures going back and forth: “What kind were they?” “How many did he smoke a day?” “What shape were they?” “What strength?” “Would he have ever varied the kind during the course of the day, or did he always smoke the same kind?” “Could he afford them?” “Were they expensive?” You know, it went on and on and on.

It really is a great pipe and cigar movie — sometimes comically so, with all that teeth clacking and puffing — which obviously comes from that research.

Well this is the thing, I mean, not only was it an era of smoking, but Freud smoked 22 cigars a day. He never was without a cigar. Of course, it gave him cancer of the jaw, but even then — he had to smoke. He tried to stop smoking for week; he said, “I could not work. I could not think.” In German, the word for “food” is lebensmittel, meaning “life stuff,” and he said that cigars were his arbeitsmittel — meaning “work stuff.” He couldn’t work without them, and he preferred, almost suicidally, to continue smoking cigars rather than to not think and work. So that was his true addiction. These are intriguing things that we learn when we do the research. You understand that every scene in the movie, except one, he will have a cigar. That is accurate. So in this case it’s not — and I know what you mean — “let’s give him glasses and a pipe and that’ll mean he’s intellectual,” no, in this case it was actually, physically accurate. And the same for Jung.

There’s a line in the film that Freud speaks as they arrive in America — “Do they know we’re bringing them the plague?” — as though psychiatry was some kind of virus being introduced.

Well he felt that it would alter American society. He felt that. His view of American was the view of many Europeans, which was that it was very naïve — psychologically very naïve, sexually very naïve, very innocent and not sophisticated — and they were bringing them something that the old world had developed, along these lines that would really shake them up, that would disturb them. And it certainly did.

Keira initially seems like an odd choice for the Sabina role. I actually found her first scene very uncomfortable to watch — not in a bad way, but just… unnerving.

Mmm-hmmm. Well, it was supposed to be.

It was almost like watching a Rick Baker transformation, the way she was contorting. How did you two achieve that performance?

Right. Cheap special effects. [Laughs] Well, it’s a very accurate portrayal of hysteria. The French psychiatrist Charcot, who was a big influence on Freud, specialized in hysteria; that was a disease at the time, which has sort of disappeared because we feel that it was generated by the sexual repression — or the general repression — of women at the time. It was considered to be a disease of women. The word “hysteria” comes from the Greek word for uterus. They would actually remove the uteruses of women to cure them, which is kind of hideous when you look at it. Photos by Charcot and footage of sufferers of hysteria are totally unwatchable and very uncomfortable, almost comedic at times — women distorting themselves, and mutilating themselves. And we had the 50-page analysis of Sabina, done by Jung, describing her symptoms — her face ravaged by tics, for example. So we talked about it, and I said “I think this is all about the mouth and the jaw — this is the Talking Cure.” For the first time this women has been asked to speak these unspeakable words about being sexually aroused by her father’s beating her, and so on. For a woman of that time, that class, that was unthinkable and unspeakable. She desperately wants to say these words but she cannot say these words; she’s afraid to say these words so she’s trying to bring them back. She’s trying to deform the words so that they can’t be understood. That was the basis of the performance. And, as I say, very accurate. These women were acting out. They were acting out their repression, intellectually and sexually, and they would go into the most grotesque things. Incredibly uncomfortable to look at.

I think we’re out of time.

You’re toast.


A Dangerous Method opens in theaters this week.


This week at the movies, we’ve got a record six Certified Fresh movies, including a Muppet caper (The Muppets, starring Jason Segel and Amy Adams), a special delivery (Arthur Christmas, with voice work from James McAvoy and Hugh Laurie), and a cinematic fantasia (Hugo, starring Asa Butterfield and Chloe Moretz). What do the critics have to say?



The Muppets

95%

It’s been more than a decade since the Muppets were in multiplexes, but critics say it was worth the wait: they find The Muppets to be a joyous musical comedy that preserves the sunny spirit of Jim Henson’s creations while managing to bring the gang into the 21st Century. Kermit, Miss Piggy, Fozzie, and the rest of the Muppets are coaxed out of retirement by Walter (as well as non-Muppets Gary (Jason Segel) and Mary (Amy Adams), a huge fan who’s afraid their old theater is about to be destroyed by shady developers. The pundits say the Certified Fresh Muppets was clearly a labor of love for writer and star Segel, and his respect for the Muppets combined with smartly self-reflexive storytelling results in a movie that should please old fans and young viewers alike. (Check out this week’s Total Recall, in which we run down all of Jim Henson’s movies, and find out Kermit and Miss Piggy’s Five Favorite Films.)



Arthur Christmas

92%

The good folks at Aardman have made plenty of delightfully offbeat animated films, and critics say the trend continues with Arthur Christmas, a sweet and eccentric dose of yuletide cheer. It’s the story of Santa Claus’ son Arthur (James McAvoy), who must deliver a present to a sad little girl after Papa Noel neglects to visit her house. Along the way, we learn about Santa’s state-of-the-art headquarters up at the North Pole. The pundits say the Certified Fresh Arthur Christmas is endlessly inventive, filled with witty sight gags, wonderful vocal performances, and an unconventional but undeniable sense of holiday cheer.



Hugo

93%

Martin Scorsese made a family movie? In 3D? He sure did, and critics say Hugo is a dazzling affair, visually rich and emotionally heartfelt in equal measure. Hugo (Asa Butterfield), and orphan living in a Paris train station, teams up with some new friends on a quest to find a secret left to him by his father. The pundits say the Certified Fresh Hugo is an extravagant, elegant fantasy with an innocence lacking in many modern kids’ movies, but it’s also an intensely personal film for Scorsese, one that emanates an unabashed love for the magic of cinema.

Also opening this week in limited release:

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