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]
With the season 7 premiere coming July 16, Game of Thrones dominates the current pop culture consciousness. What you may not know is that some of the stars of HBO’s hit fantasy series can be found in some truly superb films you may have missed. Here are 14 Certified Fresh theatrical gems starring the GoT cast.
Praise the sun! National Daylight Appreciation Day is here, inspiring this week’s gallery of 24 movies set under the blanket of night (or at least in rooms that could use a few windows) that will want you want to get grossly incandescent with some hot vitamin D.
We bet those pesky xenomorphs are getting smug now that their last two movies, Prometheus and Alien: Covenant, have gone Certified Fresh.
Enough with the space jockeys, unqualified cartographers, and people who run in straight lines: How about terrorizing someone who can put up a real fight? Vote on our 10 suggestions below or leave your dream Alien deathmatch in the comments!
Comic book movies are all the rage these days, and every year we see more of them hitting theaters than before. Whether you’re into quirky indie comics (Ghost World, American Splendor), superhero action titles (The Dark Knight, The Avengers), graphic novels (300, Persepolis), or even manga (Oldboy), there’s probably a big screen adaptation on this list for you. Read on to find out what’s available to watch online (whether through full purchase, rental, or streaming subscriptions) right now.
In the origin story of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy, Christian Bale stars as Bruce Wayne, orphaned billionaire who dons the cape and cowl to uncover a conspiracy to poison Gotham City’s water supply.
Gotham City has enjoyed eight years of peace following the events of The Dark Knight, but a broken Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) must become the Batman once again when Bane (Tom Hardy) takes the entire city hostage.
When wealthy military industrialist Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) is taken hostage by terrorists and ordered to build a new weapon, he instead invents an armored suit and decides to dedicate his life to fighting evil.
In the distant realm of Asgard, a powerful warrior named Thor (Chris Hemsworth) breaks a centuries-old truce, earning him exile to Earth. Once among humans, Thor must protect his new friends from an evil adversary who has followed him from Asgard.
After a military experiment gone wrong leaves his biology drastically altered, scientist Bruce Banner (Edward Norton) flees the US to search for a cure and fights to keep his blood out of military hands.
When a mystical object is stolen from a remote research facility, the agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. assemble Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, and the Hulk to retrieve it and prevent a large-scale alien invasion.
When small town man Tom Small (Viggo Mortensen) commits an act of heroism that gets him on the local news, a mysterious stranger (Ed Harris) recognizes him and shows up, daring to reveal secrets from a past Tom claims never existed.
Tom Hanks plays Depression-era hitman Michael Sullivan, whose son witnesses an execution at the hands of his father. When Connor (Daniel Craig), the son of his employer, kills his wife and younger son in an attempt to keep the family quiet, Sullivan sets out on a path of revenge.
In the first of Sam Raimi’s three Spider-Man films, Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) is bitten by a radioactive spider and inherits superhuman powers, which he uses to stop Norman Osborn, the megalomaniacal Green Goblin.
Peter Parker is now a college student and dating Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst), but he finds adversaries in the disturbed Dr. Octopus (Alfred Molina) and Harry Osborn (James Franco) — Peter’s best friend and the son of Green Goblin.
Marc Webb’s reboot of the franchise stars Andrew Garfield as a wisecracking Peter Parker, who is bitten by a radioactive spider and discovers secrets about his past that lead to the birth of his first adversary, the Lizard (Rhys Ifans).
Guillermo del Toro brings to life Mike Mignola’s antihero Hellboy (Ron Perlman), a demon-turned-good who teams with other paranormal heroes to defeat Rasputin, the Russian mystic who summoned Hellboy for the Nazis sixty years prior.
Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, Hugh Jackman, Halle Berry, and more provide the star power for this pioneering entry in the franchise about superpowered mutants with contradictory philosophies about achieving acceptance in the human world.
Director Matthew Vaughn takes us back to the 1960s, when a young Professor Xavier (James McAvoy) and Erik Lehnsherr/Magneto (Michael Fassbender) first meet, begin to gather mutants to their respective cause, and discover they hold very different ideas about the future.
This 2006 film picks up where Superman II left off, as Clark Kent/Superman (Brandon Routh) returns after years of absence only to find that the world is getting along fine without him… and his former enemy Lex Luthor (Kevin Spacey) is up to his old tricks.
Based on the Daniel Clowes graphic novel, this coming-of-age comedy focuses on recent high school grads Enid and Rebeca (Thora Birch, Scarlett Johansson), who spend their summer navigating relationships and trying to figure out what to do with their lives.
In this South Korean thriller, a man (Choi Min-sik) is kidnapped and held captive for 15 years by an anonymous party for undisclosed reasons; when he is finally set free, he begins to unravel the dark mystery behind his imprisonment.
New York cop James Edwards (Will Smith) is recruited for a top secret government agency tasked with policing earth’s resident aliens; with his partner Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones), the two help stop a “Bug” (Vincent D’Onofrio) bent on the destruction of a hidden universe.
Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones) has retired and had his memory wiped, but when a shapeshifting villain (Lara Flynn Boyle) takes control of the MIB offices, Agent J (Will Smith) must team up with him again to bring her to justice.
Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson) wonders why there aren’t any real superheroes in the world, so he buys a goofy outfit and tries his hand at vigilante justice. When he inadvertently upsets a crime boss (Mark Strong), he teams up with a few fellow heroes to take him down.
In a dystopic near future, “judges” dispense justice at their discretion. Dredd (Karl Urban) and a rookie partner (Olivia Thirlby) get their first assignment: take down a highrise populated by gangsters and ruled by a ruthless drug lord named Ma-Ma (Lena Headey).
This adaptation of the Alan Moore graphic novel, set in an alternate England, stars Natalie Portman as a young woman who joins with a mysterious masked man, skilled in speech and combat, who seeks to overthrow the totalitarian government.
Val Kilmer takes up the cape and cowl for Joel Schumacher’s decidedly campier sequel; Robin (Chris O’Donnell) enters the picture to lend Batman a hand against the Riddler (Jim Carrey) and Two-Face (Tommy Lee Jones).
Zack Snyder directs a violent and stylish adaptation of Frank Miller’s fictionalized retelling of the legendary battle of Thermopylae, where, as legend has it, a small army of Spartans held off the entire Persian army.
Jane Fonda stars as the title heroine in this sci-fi cult favorite about a government rep from Earth who searches the galaxy for a missing scientist and explores her sexuality with a number of intergalactic suitors.
This week, we return to a regular rotation of home video releases with a few notable selections and, as always, a few less than notable ones. Among the choices are a well received comic-based action film, Tim Burton’s latest stop-motion project, a Qatsi-esque visual collage, and a ripped-from-the-headlines thriller. In addition, there’s also a Jennifer Lawrence-powered horror dud, a hit-and-miss road trip comedy, and an implausible Nic Cage heist flick. See below for the full list!
One of the most well known UK comic heroes, Judge Dredd already received the big screen treatment back in 1995 with no less than Sly Stallone in the title role. Unfortunately, that film was an all-around disappointment, critically, commercially, and for fans. Enter 2012’s Dredd, a reintroduction of the character rather than a remake, with Karl Urban as the eponymous Judge and Olivia Thirlby as his tenderfoot sidekick Judge Anderson. Set in a dystopian future where Judges play every law enforcement role — including executioner — Dredd and Anderson infiltrate a 200-story highrise to shut down a drug lord named Ma-Ma (Lena Headey); lots of blood and mayhem ensue. Critics found Dredd a refreshing new take on the character, fueled by impressive special effects, deadpan humor, and a good bit of the old ultraviolence. Certified Fresh at 78%, this actioner might even manage to wipe the image of a wisecracking Rob Schneider from your memory.
Before he found his soul mates in Johnny Depp and Danny Elfman, Tim Burton put together a short film about young boy who brings his pet dog back to life and called it Frankenweenie. Since that film — originally intended to play before screenings of Disney’s Pinocchio in 1984 — was deemed too scary for young audiences, Burton waited until he was a big name before bringing the little pooch back to the cinemas, this time in stop-motion animation. The story is essentially an embellished version of the short: a young boy by the name of Victor Frankenstein (voiced by Charlie Tahan) brings his dog Sparky back to life, but his classmates also discover the reanimation formula and inadvertently begin turning dead animals into monsters; it’s up to Victor and Sparky to help save the town. Frankenweenie is about as “Tim Burton” as you can get, but his personal touch, his obvious love for both the story and the stop-motion craft, infuses the film with energy. Certified Fresh at 89%, it’s an odd little family movie, but one that’s fun to watch.
It’s a tricky thing to earn an Oscar nod early in your career; folks will forever expect the same quality of work with every new role. Jennifer Lawrence earned a Best Actress nomination for her work in Winter’s Bone, and while (almost) every film she’s done since then has been Fresh, 2012’s House at the End of the Street proves they can’t all be winners. In this horror thriller, a divorced mother (Elisabeth Shue) and her daughter Elissa (Lawrence) move into a new home, next door to a house with a dark past. The sole survivor (Max Thieriot) of a grisly murder spree years ago still occupies that house, and when he and Elissa begin a relationship, she slowly begins to unravel all the terrible secrets that exist. If you were looking for a few scares, critics say you won’t find them here; at 11% on the Tomatometer, House at the End of the Street is a poorly executed chiller that makes little use of its star’s talents. Good thing she did Silver Linings Playbook to make up for it.
The first time Dax Shepard and David Palmer teamed up to direct a movie (2011’s Brother’s Justice), they earned a 0% Tomatometer score, so they didn’t have to do much to improve their record the second time around. And improve they did, to a much better (but still Rotten) 47%, with last year’s Hit & Run, a raucous road trip comedy about a former getaway driver (Shepard) who abandons his witness protection program identity so he can drive his girlfriend (Shepard’s real life gal pal Kristen Bell) to a job interview in Los Angeles. On the way, the couple are pursued by a friend from his past (Bradley Cooper), an ex-girlfriend (Kristin Chenoweth), and a US Marshall (Tom Arnold). Critics admitted that Hit & Run featured some interesting surprises, but also felt the action was underwhelming and the writing wasn’t quite up to par.
Nicolas Cage and director Simon West have made one other film together, 1997’s Con Air, an over-the-top actioner that has amassed somewhat of a cult fandom. 2012’s Stolen, however, isn’t likely to achieve the same. Cage stars as Will Montgomery, a recently released bank robber who was imprisoned for a $10 million heist. A former partner (Josh Lucas) believes he still has access to the stolen loot, so he kidnaps Will’s daughter (Sami Gayle), prompting Will to rob another bank just to pay the ransom. Unfortunately, for all its would-be tension and heist intrigue, critics found Stolen a rather ineffectual thriller, with its requisite impossible leaps of logic, unimaginative exposition, and a surprisingly muted performance from the typically animated Cage. It currently sits at 13%, so don’t say we didn’t warn you.
Ron Fricke has already directed two films in the same vein as the Qatsi trilogy, the first film of which he served on as cinematographer. Both 1987’s Chronos and 1993’s Baraka are visual documentaries, collages of powerful and evocative images set to music and devoid of narration, and Samsara offers more of the same. Fricke spent five years collecting footage in twenty-five countries for this meditative exploration of life’s interconnection, depicting various peoples and landscapes ranging from sacred grounds to industrial sites. Though critics felt its message was a bit heavy-handed, they granted that the incredible visuals — shot in 70mm — were more than enough to make up for any narrative flaws. Certified Fresh at 76%, Samsara isn’t going to appeal to everyone, but for those looking for something slightly beyond typical cinema, it should provide a beautiful, thought-provoking experience.
“Truth is stranger than fiction,” as they say, and it often makes for really compelling cinema. Case in point: Compliance, a little-seen thriller whose plot was largely based on a real life prank phone call made in 2004 to a McDonald’s in Kentucky. Ann Dowd plays Sandra, a fast food restaurant manager who receives a phone call from a man who identifies himself as a police officer and implicates a female employee (Dreama Walker) in a crime. The employee in question, Becky, is compelled by legal threats from the caller to retire to an office in the back of the restaurant, where the caller’s demands escalate from searching Becky’s pockets to having Becky remove all her clothing, and worse. As others are pulled into the scam, the caller becomes increasingly bold until everything unravels. Critics found Compliance both gripping and disturbing, anchored by smart direction from Craig Zobel and strong, committed performances, particularly from Ann Dowd, who’s already earned accolades for her work here. Certified Fresh at 89%, Compliance may be tough to watch for some, but it displays fine filmmaking from all involved.
Also available this week:
The original 1962 Cape Fear (95%), starring Gregory Peck, Robert Mitchum, and Martin Balsam, on Blu-ray.
Multiple Oscar-winner Mrs. Miniver (91%), directed by William Wyler and starring Greer Garson, Walter Pidgeon, and Teresa Wright, on Blu-ray.
Clssic 1932 ensemble drama Grand Hotel (89%), starring Greta Garbo, Joan Crawford, John Barrymore, and others, on Blu-ray.
The HBO film Game Change (63%), starring Ed Harris, Woody Harrelson, and Julianne Moore in the story of Sarah Palin’s candidacy for Vice President in 2008.
Inspirational sports drama Touchback (42%), starring Kurt Russell, Brian Presley, and Melanie Lynskey.
The Avengers. The Dark Knight Rises. Skyfall. There were plenty of highly-anticipated, critically acclaimed films that wowed moviegoers this year. But you know all about that stuff already, so we at RT decided to give some love to a few of the overlooked, underappreciated, and, in some cases, critically dismissed movies that made an impression on us. Read on for a rundown of lesser-known gems from 2012 that we think deserve another look.
This was one of my favorite movies of the year (along with The Grey), but it really struggled to find an audience. So I was glad to see if get a recent re-release nationwide, and I really recommend seeing it if you have the chance. This story about two cops in South Central LA is sometimes funny, sometimes terrifying, and sometimes heartbreaking, and this movie caught me completely off-guard. I’m not sure what I’d been expecting, maybe another forgettable cop drama. What I got instead was a riveting ride-along with two cops (played by Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena) that I really believed had been partners for years. They had an easy familiarity that looked like a couple of guys that had gone beyond being partners or friends, and into real brotherhood. You laugh with them when they laugh at each other, and you worry about them when they’re on their own. Anna Kendrick, America Ferrera and David Harbour all put in strong supporting turns, Kendrick as Gyllenhaal’s new girlfriend, and Ferrera and Harbour as fellow cops. As I said before, I strongly recommend this movie, and I’d really like to see some of this cast (especially Pena) get some notice as the awards season heats up.
Nobody makes films like Hungarian director Bela Tarr. His spare, eerie meditations on morality and mortality occupy a bleak, mystical plane that seems to exist outside of time (or any notions of contemporary cinematic influence). The plot of The Turin Horse is simple — a man and his daughter tend to their farm while waiting for an apocalyptic storm to hit — and it’s told with an absolute minimum of artifice: the camera barely moves as our protagonists eat, work, and go about their daily business in near silence. I’m not even going to try to sell you on The Turin Horse; it’s the type of movie experience that will strike some as poetic and evocative, and others as a nifty cure for insomnia. But it casts a hypnotic spell, one that I’ve been unable to shake since seeing it. If you choose to watch it, I’ll give you one piece of advice: wear a sweater, because you can practically feel a wintery chill from the screen.
Since I am terrible at remembering actual historical events, I love movies with revisionist history–especially when they involve pirates and claymation. Aardman Studios enlisted the help of Hugh Grant, Imelda Staunton, David Tennant, Jeremy Piven, Salma Hayek, and Martin Freeman to tell the tale of the Pirate Captain, who really isn’t a great leader, and his quest to impress a girl (Queen Victoria). Along the way, he meets Charles Darwin, enters a science contest, tries to win Pirate of the Year, and learns what friendship is really all about. This film is nothing less than what I have come to expect from the Wallace and Gromit folks– it’s hysterical from start to finish, has staggering amounts of charm, and provides phenomenal detail even within the foam on beer. Every time I watch it, I want to give this movie a hug.
This critically acclaimed but largely underseen documentary surprised me not so much because it was good, but because I enjoyed it for very different reasons than I expected. Lauren Greenfield’s The Queen of Versailles begins with a portrait of a wealthy family living in excess: time-share mogul David Siegel and his wife Jackie are in the process of building their dream house, a 90,000 sq. ft. mansion modeled after the Palace of Versailles. But then, the 2008 economic crisis hits them hard, and Siegel is forced to make vast cutbacks, both in his corporate empire and within the Siegel home itself; construction on the mansion is halted. At this point, one might expect to be overcome by a sudden rush of gleeful schadenfreude – and certainly, I felt some of this as I watched the beleaguered patriarch agonize over his expenses – but the film begins to reveal the layers behind the glitz and glamour, and this shift is what took me by surprise. Jackie’s been warped by her wealth, sure, but she’s well-meaning, she’s loving, she’s supportive, and she wants so badly for her family to feel like a family; I have to admit, I was kind of touched. The Queen of Versailles is an absolutely fascinating glimpse at the lives of the super rich, but its power is in its portrayal of the Siegels who, at the end of the day, are just another family trying to adapt to changes they’re wholly unprepared for. Never before have I experienced such a mix between my sympathy for and smug satisfaction with the misfortune of others.
What can I say, I love movies about messed-up, unpleasant people — and the more messed-up and unpleasant the better, as far as I’m concerned. Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim have been testing the dynamics of audience discomfort for years with their brilliant Awesome Show, and that laugh-or-cringe sensibility manifests in a complex, dramatic way in Heidecker’s character here. Giving easily one of my favorite performances of the year, Heidecker plays a kind of repulsive trust-fund monster whose money allows him to do literally nothing with his life — nothing, that is, apart from drift from situation to situation antagonizing people; as though some kind of slovenly Andy Kaufman had been resurrected for a Noah Baumbach movie. He’s hideous but he’s also hilarious, and The Comedy moves more like a drama — you’re just never sure whether you should be in howls of pain or hysterics. The most impressive thing about both Alverson’s direction and Heidecker’s genius underplaying is not just the truth they locate in this husk of a man-boy, it’s that they nearly make you care about his sad predicament by the movie’s end. It’s the kind of character and film that splits critics down the middle, as well it should — with 40% on the Tomatometer, there’s love and loathing aplenty. The Comedy had a miniature theatrical run, but it’s widely available on VOD. Watch it, and either thank me or despise me afterwards.
Of the 6,000 films Jay and Mark Duplass were involved with this year, Jeff, Who Lives at Home stands out. Not that I have any personal identification with a slacker who lives in his mom’s basement and believes he’s getting signs from the universe to do something meaningful, Jeff who (probably) eats too much cereal and (probably) is still hung-up on his ex. No identification at all. Instead, I connected with the movie’s charm and simplicity, from the title all the way down to its surprisingly generous spirit. Jeff (Jason Segel, essentially updating his Freaks and Geeks character for the information age) is presented as a lovable oaf, who could be a real underdog if it weren’t so inconvenient to getting high. And there is exciting depth to his friends and family, which includes people played by Susan Sarandon, Judy Greer, and Ed Helms, all of whom get a few great scenes. Jeff’s adventure is madcap and full of digressions, easing its way into an affecting finale against the backdrop of a setting sun. Mumblecore, aka hipster Dogme, may be fleeting but in considering Jeff’s little heartfelt accomplishment, we can see the signs of life.
Tossing around in my head films such as Smashed (possible Oscar buzz on this anyway) and Bait (2012, funny, silly, exciting with quite creative gore), I ended up opting for El Dedo (“The Finger”). A selection of the Global Film Initiative, the film handles a slightly grotesque premise with lightheartedness and charm. The results are sometimes comical and always endearing. The plot is just ridiculous enough to be true. Based on real events, a few of the real-life subjects co-star, breaking the fourth wall to bring us closer. A beloved townsmen running for mayor in a town’s first election is murdered and his finger is saved for sentimental purposes. The town looks to the severed index finger for guidance, but will it still win the mayoral election? The characters are so likeable, the plot is almost surreal, this one is a winner, even for those who might not ordinarily watch foreign films.
This Chris Pine and Elizabeth Banks drama may not necessarily be off the radar, but overall it was poorly received. And that’s unfortunate since this underappreciated film had fantastic performances by its two leads. A lot of critics felt this film lacked depth and was melodramatic, but most agreed that Pine and Banks put in standout performances. And audiences should keep an eye on newcomer Michael Hall D’Addario, who played Banks’s son; he stole most of the scenes he was in and is definitely someone to look out for in the future. If you like films with great performances, and don’t mind a tear or two, this one is worth another look.
I’m here to recommend a flick that got crushed on the Tomatometer, but is still tasty if you can handle a little pulp. This Means War is formulaic, but I believe that plot formulas exist because, just often enough, they work. This one really surprised me. If you don’t make the mistake of going in expecting something more than what it is, this film offers a lot of laughs and a really good time. Reese Witherspoon, Chris Pine and Tom Hardy are really funny, and keep it stylish to boot. This film doesn’t fall into the chick flick category, nor does it cater exclusively to the bros. Rather it has great balance, and can be appreciated by all. In the civil unrest that can arise during the debate of what DVD to select for a stay-in date night, This Means War can bring both sides to a suitable accord.
Dredd is not one of those movies that you never heard about, but it’s probably one you didn’t care to watch when it hit the theaters earlier this year. Let’s face it, its box office was far from great, but – as a comic book fan – I decided to give it a shot, and I’m really glad I got to watch it in all its 3D glory. The guys behind Dredd did a pretty good job giving life to Mega City One, a post-apocalyptic metropolis dominated by crime, where cops enforce the law onto its citizens as judges, jury and executioners. The city looks so overpopulated, chaotic and hopeless that it convinces the audience that the unorthodox methods applied by the judges are the only way to go. Instead of spending a long time introducing this dystopic reality, director Pete Travis let you learn as you go. He basically shows a day in the life of the always-frowning Judge Dredd (Karl Urban) and rookie psychic partner Anderson (Olivia Thirlby), who get trapped in a gigantic residential complex called Peach Tree – more like a vertical concrete slum, dominated by drug lord Ma-Ma (Lena Headey). The movie is packed with action, God-they-are-not-gonna-make-it moments, and loads of gory violence. I also really like its beautiful, dark cinematography and the visual impact of the well-applied slow-motion technology and bullet-time effects. It’s a visual masterpiece. Dredd is still not available on home entertainment, but it will hit 3D Blu-ray, Blu-ray, DVD and digital download on January 8, 2013.
Nobody plays a grizzled-but-secretly-lovable coot like Clint Eastwood. And critics say he and co-star Amy Adams are in fine form in Trouble with the Curve, even if the movie’s plot is as well-worn as an old catcher’s mitt. Gus Lobel (Eastwood) is an aging scout for the Atlanta Braves who’s losing both his sight and his preternatural gift for judging talent. When the team hopes to secure a hotshot prospect in the draft, Gus’ daughter Mickey (Adams) joins him on a trip to scout the player, mending their frayed relationship in the process. The pundits say Trouble With the Curve may not be a home run, but it’s a solid single: it’s warm, well-acted, and really predictable. (Check out this week’s Total Recall, in which we count down the best movies starring Eastwood.)
Judge Dredd, from 1995, has long been a punchline for fans of comic book adaptations. So it’s a small miracle that critics are pretty psyched about the franchise’s reboot — they say Dredd 3D is tense, visceral, and visually dazzling. Karl Urban stars as the title character, a law-enforcement agent that acts as judge, jury, and executioner. Patrolling the streets of a dystopian megalopolis, Dredd battles a vicious drug syndicate that’s taken over a heavily fortified apartment building. The pundits say the Certified FreshDredd is ultra-violent (sometimes excessively so), but it’s also deftly paced, action packed, and surprisingly smart.
A buddy-cop movie shot in a found-footage style, End of Watch might initially look like a feature length episode of COPS. However, critics say this is a gritty take on well-trodden turf, and it benefits greatly from the chemistry between leads Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena. They play partners in the LAPD – one of whom is shooting a few days on the beat for a film school project – and what a wild few days they are. Upon making what seems like a routine bust, our heroes become the targets of a ruthless drug cartel. The pundits say the Certified Fresh End of Watch is an immersive experience, putting audiences on a ride-along with two terrifically realized characters.
Paul Thomas Anderson‘s The Master opens in wide release this weekend, and critics say this tale of a troubled man who falls under the influence of a shadowy religious leader is immersive, expertly crafted, and wonderfully acted. Joaquin Phoenix stars as a navy vet in the midst of personal turmoil who turns to Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman), the charismatic leader of a group called the Cause; soon, the two men are locked in a test of wills. The pundits say Certified FreshThe Master is a challenging work, but it’s often hypnotic and elusive in the best sense. (Check out RT staffer Jeff Giles’ Paul Thomas Anderson watching series here.)
It appears the folks behind House at the End of the Street were afraid the film wasn’t built on the sturdiest of foundations, since reviews are currently unavailable. Jennifer Lawrence and Elisabeth Shue star as a mother and daughter who move into a new neighborhood, only to learn that the house next door was the site of a gruesome double murder that remains shrouded in mystery. It’s time to guess the Tomatometer! (And check out RT 24 Frames, which delves into Lawrence’s life and career.)
Finally, props to Brian Clarkson and Simon Opitz for coming the closest to guessing Resident Evil: Retribution‘s 29 percent Tomatometer.
Rotten Tomatoes Radio show imminent! SiriusXM channel 104, 3PM PST/6PM EST! We’ll be talking about Dredd 3D, House at the End of the Street, End of Watch, Trouble with the Curve and all the other new releases. Our guest today is esteemed critic, Leonard Maltin.
Today’s call-in question: “What bad movies should be rebooted in hopes of making a good movie?” Call in during the segment at 888-996-2946. Bye now!!!