Touted as the first great horror movie of the year, The Witch offers a visceral exploration of black arts and superstition in a bloody tale set within 17th century New England. The film inspires this 24 Frames gallery of the most iconic witches from movie history.

This week on home video, we’ve got another trip to Oz, a revisionist take on an old fairy tale, a crime thriller with a message, and a strange journey to find a lost dog. Then, we’ve got some notable reissues, including a 40th anniversary Blu-ray of a Bruce Lee classic and a handful of animated Disney films. See below for the full list.



Oz the Great and Powerful

57%

Only in this great age of reboots and prequels would one dare to make a film about the events that preceded those of another film that first debuted more than 70 years ago. With Oz the Great and Powerful, Disney and Sam Raimi did just that, telling the story of one Oscar Diggs (James Franco), a carnival con man who is spirited away to the magical land of Oz by a rogue tornado. Upon arrival, Oscar is heralded as a great wizard of prophecy and, with the help of some unlikely allies, sets about ridding Oz of evil, eventually earning his place at the throne where, some years later, a little girl from Kansas would visit. Critics felt Oz the Great and Powerful packed just enough eye-popping visuals and clever nods to the original to keep things interesting; it was always unlikely it would live up to the grandeur of the 1939 film and its source material, but at 60%, it’ll probably serve as sufficient family entertainment for an evening.



Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters

17%

Since fairy tales just aren’t edgy enough these days, some folks have set out to make them a bit more palatable to the cool kids; last year Snow White had her day as a warrior, and next week we’ll be talking about a giant-slaying Jack. Today, though, we’ve got an alternate take on the two innocent babes who once found themselves at the mercy of a cannibalistic witch in the woods. Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters finds the titular brother and sister duo (Jeremey Renner and Gemma Arterton) all grown up and established as famous vigilantes. Little do they know that a powerful witch named Muriel (Famke Janssen) who knows secrets about their past is targeting them for a powerful ritual that will grant her great power. H&G: Witch Hunters is probably exactly what its director, Tommy Wirkola, wanted it to be — it’s violent and over-the-top — but that wasn’t enough for critics, who found it far too schizophrenic in tone to be effective.



Snitch

57%

Dwayne Johnson can do brawny action, and he can do broad comedy; can he find similar success in a more thoughtful, subdued thriller? In Snitch, Johnson plays John Matthews, a construction company owner whose son Jason (Rafi Gavron) is set up to take the fall on a drug charge. Knowing his son may not survive the minimum 10-year prison term, John strikes a deal with a US attorney (Susan Sarandon) to go undercover and help bust a dangerous dealer in exchange for a reduced sentence. Snitch sits just shy of Fresh at 58%, but Dwayne Johnson isn’t what kept it from getting there; for the most part, critics bought his performance. Where the film fails is in its lackluster storytelling and its inability to balance its too-earnest message with the more typical elements of an action film. Still, 58% isn’t a terrible score, so it might be worth checking out.



Wrong

65%

Director Quentin Dupieux’s last film was about an abandoned car tire that comes to life and blows things up via telekinesis to attract the attention of a beautiful woman, so when we say that his latest effort, Wrong, is more “normal,” we’re being liberal with our diction. Jack Plotnik plays Dolph Springer, an everyman with a bad case of denial… about everything. He’s been fired from his job, but he shows up for work every day anyway, sitting in the only office in the building where it rains (or is it even really raining?). When his beloved dog disappears, Dolph set out to find him, meanwhile making attempts to contact him telepathically, and he makes a handful of unusual friends along the way. Dupieux seems to revel in the absurd, and while Wrong‘s plot takes a lot of strange detours, most critics found the film a clever abstraction. If you don’t mind spending some time on a meandering journey with people who also don’t seem to mind that it’s meandering, or a bit weird, then Wrong might be for you. Below, you can check out an exclusive clip featuring the cast and crew talking about the film:

Also available this week:

  • Dead Man’s Burden (76%), starring Clare Bowen in a slow-burning western thriller about a frontier woman and her husband dealing with the sudden reappearance of her brother, whom she presumed dead.
  • As usual, the Criterion Collection has another solid release: Ingmar Bergman’s masterpiece Wild Strawberries (94%), about an old professor who contemplates his life in flashbacks and surreal fantasy sequences en route to accept an honorary degree.
  • A newly remastered 40th Anniversary Edition of the Bruce Lee classic Enter the Dragon (95%), which includes much of the content from the previous Blu-ray release, plus some brand new extras.
  • As they’ve done before, Disney is releasing Blu-ray double packs of some of its “lesser” animated films and their direct-to-DVD sequels, including Lilo and Stitch (86%), The Emperor’s New Groove (85%), and Atlantis: The Lost Empire (49%).

This week in streaming movies, we’ve got big releases about a second trip to Oz, a Vegas comedy duo trying to recapture fame and glory, and the man behind Wikileaks. Then, we’ve got a few notable smaller films, as well as some choice selections like Thor, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and more. Read on to find out what’s available to watch right now.


Oz the Great and Powerful
57%

James Franco stars as a roguish carnival magician who finds himself transported to a magical world. There, he meets a trio of witches and is treated like a king. Can our hero summon the courage and smarts to bring peace to the land of Oz?

Available now on: Amazon, Vudu


We Steal Secrets: The Story of Wikileaks
92%

Alex Gibney’s documentary is an in-depth portrait of Julian Assange, Bradley Manning, and the website that published a variety of secret documents.

Available now on: Vudu


The Incredible Burt Wonderstone
38%

Steve Carell and Steve Buscemi star as outlandish Vegas stage magicians whose popularity is threatened by big egos, personal animosity, and the rise of a hip street magician (Jim Carrey).

Available now on: Amazon, Vudu


Wrong
65%

In this dramedy, a man’s life takes a number of strange turns as he looks for his missing dog.

Available now on: Vudu


Dead Man’s Burden
74%

In this new Western, a Civil War veteran returns to his family’s homestead to investigate the mysterious death of his father.

Available now on: Amazon, Vudu


Tiger Eyes
63%

This Judy Blume-scripted drama is the story of a teenage girl dealing with the death of her father and her new environs after her family’s cross-country move.

Available now on: Vudu


Thor
77%

Chris Hemsworth stars as the God of Thunder, who’s been exiled from Asgard after heedlessly starting a war. Exiled to Earth (and sans superpowers), this legendary Norseman must learn humility — and defend humanity against the evildoers from his realm.

Available now on: Amazon Prime


Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
97%

Chow Yun-Fat and Michelle Yeoh star in Ang Lee’s lush, pictureseque, gravity-defying martial arts epic.

Available now on: Crackle


Close Encounters of the Third Kind
94%

Steven Spielberg’s sci-fi classic stars Richard Dreyfuss and features one of the gentlest alien invasions ever captured on film.

Available now on: Crackle


Pineapple Express
68%

Seth Rogen and James Franco star in this stoner comedy about a pair of buds who get caught up in the dealings of some vicious drug dealers.

Available now on: Crackle

Kerr Lordygan had the luck of the Irish on his side at the Regal Cinemas LA Live this March. Oz The Great and Powerful served as the backdrop for his inquiries about whether or not Oz was a good vacation destination if the movie was romantic, and if the generous patrons of the theater would ever date a munchkin.

Moviegoers cared about only one magician as the blockbuster Oz the Great and Powerful easily led the North American box office for a second time while dueling magic men Steve Carell and Jim Carrey saw their new comedy The Incredible Burt Wonderstone get flat out rejected. Meanwhile, the Halle Berry thriller The Call overperformed and enjoyed a solid second place debut.

Disney’s big-budget Wizard of Oz prequel Oz was both great and powerful grossing an estimated $42.2M in its sophomore frame to boost the ten-day cume to $145M. The PG-rated witchfest dropped a moderate 47% which was in line with Johnny Depp’s 3D fairy tale extravaganza Alice in Wonderland from three years ago which declined by 46% in its second weekend which was also in mid-March. That film amassed $209.3M in its first ten days, or 63% of its eventual $334.2M domestic final. Neither Oz nor Alice had a new competing kidpic open on that sophomore session.

Overseas, Oz hauled in another $46.6M from 55 territories boosting the international total to $136.8M and the global gross to $281.8M. With audiences generally liking the costly $215M-budgeted fantasy film, the current trajectory puts it on course for $230M-240M from North America and over $550M worldwide.

Halle Berry scored a big hit this weekend with her new kidnapping thriller The Call which exceeded expectations and landed in second place with a $17.1M opening, according to estimates. The R-rated film which finds the Oscar-winning actress playing a 911 operator who takes matters into her own hands to capture a serial killer averaged a sturdy $6,821 from 2,507 locations powered by a female audience. Studio data showed that women made up 61% of the crowd while 53% were over 30. Abigail Breslin co-starred.

Reviews were lackluster but moviegoers responded to the marketing push of this crime thriller. Berry has had little luck at the box office in recent years when not starring in a franchise film with built-in audiences. In fact, The Call delivered her third best opening ever for a non-franchise pic trailing only 2001’s Swordfish and 2003’s Gothika. The B+ CinemaScore indicates that audiences were generally pleased with what the Sony film had to offer so the long-term outlook seems promising. As an action hero, Berry can now say that she beat out openings this year from The Rock, Mark Wahlberg, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, and Colin Farrell.

Barely breaking double digit millions, the all-star comedy The Incredible Burt Wonderstone opened to dismal results in third place with an estimated $10.3M for A-list comic stars Steve Carell and Jim Carrey. The PG-13 flick about an iconic Las Vegas magician threatened by the success of a popular new street performer featured two of the biggest box office names in the world of comedy but failed to excite ticket buyers. Burt averaged a middling $3,261 from 3,160 locations and boasted a cast that also included Steve Buscemi, James Gandolfini, Alan Arkin and Olivia Wilde.

Critics slammed the Warner Bros. release and unfunny trailers and TV spots did little to change people’s minds. Over the past decade, Carell has anchored many broad comedy hits while Carrey has done very few spending more time instead on big kidpics and smaller indies. Among wide releases bowing in 2,000+ theaters, Wonderstone was the worst opener ever for Carell and the third lowest for Carrey after the Majestic and Man in the Moon. Studio research showed that Burt skewed 55% male and 56% over 25. CinemaScore audiences gave a disappointing C+ grade indicating a fast fade ahead.

With nothing new for kids, the fairy tale adventure Jack the Giant Slayer held up well in its third round with an estimated $6.2M dipping 37%. The pricey Warner Bros. title has still only collected $53.9M from North America on its way to about $70M. Identity Thief, a hit with a much lower cost and much higher gross, followed in fifth place with an estimated $4.5M. Off just 29%, the Universal smash has grossed a terrific $123.7M to date.

Dwayne Johnson’s Snitch has been that rare action movie with good legs slipping 31% in its fourth round to an estimated $3.5M for a $37.3M cume to date for Lionsgate. Relativity’s party comedy 21 and Over fell 49% to an estimated $2.6M with $21.9M overall.

Oscar contender Silver Linings Playbook dropped 29% to an estimated $2.6M for The Weinstein Co. lifting the total to a sturdy $124.6M. Its been in the top ten for the past nine weekends. The Relativity romance Safe Haven followed close behind with an estimated $2.5M, off 34%, putting the tearjerker at a solid $67M. Rounding out the top ten was the kidpic Escape From Planet Earth which dipped only 28% to an estimated $2.3M. The total stands at $52.2M for The Weinstein Co.

Making a spectacular splash in platform release was the bikini-clad-girls-with-guns pic Spring Breakers which sold out shows with an estimated $270,000 from only three theaters (2 in New York, 1 in Los Angeles) for a jaw-dropping $90,000 average. Distributed by A24, the R-rated film stars Disney Channel gals Selena Gomez and Vanessa Hudgens in more sexually provocative roles along with James Franco who this weekend ruled both the mainstream and specialty scenes. Reviews were generally positive and Breakers will expand nationwide this Friday.

The top ten films grossed an estimated $93.9M which was even with last year when 21 Jump Street opened at number one with $36.3M; but off 5% from 2011 when Limitless debuted in the top spot with $18.9M.

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This weekend, Disney’s big-budget Emerald City gamble paid off as the expensive 3D prequel Oz the Great and Powerful opened to sensational results at the North American box office accounting for well over half of all ticket sales thanks to one of the biggest debuts ever seen at this time of year. The PG-rated adventure bowed to a stunning $80.3M, according to estimates, from 3,912 theaters resulting in a spectacular $20,521 average.

It was the third biggest March opening ever trailing last year’s The Hunger Games ($152.5M) and the 2010 Johnny Depp mega-smash Alice in Wonderland ($116.1M) and the fourth best during the entire January-to-March corridor. Directed by Sam Raimi, Oz stars James Franco, Mila Kunis, Michelle Williams, and Rachel Weisz and tells the origin story behind the classic story The Wizard of Oz. The production budget is estimated to be at a staggering $215M but the excellent debut now indicates that this will end up as a moneymaker — quite possibly with over $600M in global box office plus ancillaries.

The Mouse House had its marketing machine working overtime for months to build excitement and the campaign worked. Families were genuinely excited but so were adult women, teens, and young adults so the broad appeal helped fuel a wider turnout. Plus the brand was popular and relevant making for a film that moviegoers would be interested in paying to see.

Oz started out with a stellar $24.1M opening day on Friday which included $2M from Thursday night shows. Saturday saw a solid 37% boost to $33M while Sunday is estimated to decline by 30% to $23.1M. Alice — another 3D family-oriented adventure released by Disney in early March — saw more of its mammoth opening weekend haul turn out upfront on Friday with Saturday inching up only 8%. It went on to finish its domestic run with nearly three times its opening figure and more than $1 billion worldwide. However, that film had the starpower of Johnny Depp and was released during the early stages of the 3D boom when movie fans were more eager to pay the higher ticket prices.

2013 has been a mostly disappointing year with very few films scoring big openings or overperforming. Oz more than doubled the year’s largest opening to date — Identity Thief‘s $34.6M. That comedy is also the top-grossing film of the year but the title will be swiped away by Oz next weekend. The magician and the three witches also grossed more on opening weekend than last year’s budget-busting flops John Carter and Battleship made during their entire runs. Even last weekend’s Jack the Giant Slayer won’t reach a final North American tally close to Oz‘s great and powerful weekend.

Oz the Great and Powerful also opened day and date in 80% of the international marketplace this weekend and banked an estimated $69.9M from 46 territories making for a massive $150.2M worldwide opening. Some key markets like China and France are still to come later this month. Featuring a very American story and setting, Oz has less global appeal when compared to other recent movie franchises like The Hobbit, Harry Potter, James Bond, Pirates of the Caribbean, or even Wonderland. But 3D visual spectacles do sell and the studio made a conscious effort to tour the stars around the world in recent weeks for red carpet premieres in Tokyo, Moscow, and London to help energize global ticket buyers.

Despite its B+ CinemaScore grade last weekend when it opened, the big-budget fairy tale adventure Jack the Giant Slayer tumbled a disturbing 63% in its sophomore frame to an estimated $10M. Oz certainly took away much of the target audience but overall consumer excitement for the Warner Bros. release was never very strong to begin with. With $43.8M in ten days, Jack should end its domestic run with a disappointing $60-65M. Produced for nearly $200M excluding global marketing costs, the actioner will deliver substantial losses. The comedy hit Identity Thief held up well in its fifth weekend sliding only 35% to an estimated $6.3M giving Universal $116.5M to date.

Another month, another R-rated action film dies on impact. The Colin Farrell revenge pic Dead Man Down debuted poorly in fourth with only $5.4M, according to estimates, for a weak $2,445 average from 2,188 locations. Adult men made up the core crowd as demographic data showed that the audience was 60% male and 75% over 25. Reviews were not very kind and moviegoers had little praise either as the CinemaScore was a lackluster B- for the FilmDistrict release.

Two films tied for fifth place according to estimates with $5.1M a piece. The Lionsgate action title Snitch posted a very good hold easing 34% with $31.9M to date. Relativity’s party comedy 21 and Over dropped by a reasonable 42% and has banked $16.8M after ten days. The distributor’s romance hit Safe Haven followed with an estimated $3.8M, down 40%, and a cume of $62.9M.

With Oscar heat evaporating, Silver Linings Playbook fell by 35% — the largest decline yet of its 17-week run. The Weinstein Co. release grossed $3.7M and upped its sum to an impressive $120.7M. The distributor claimed ninth place too with its animated entry Escape From Planet Earth which got hurt by Oz falling 52% to an estimated $3.2M. The 3D toon has collected $47.8M. Rounding out the top ten was the horror sequel The Last Exorcism Part II which crashed by 60% in its second weekend with an estimated $3.1M. Cume for CBS Films is $12.1M.

In the specialty arena, the Tommy Lee Jones film Emperor generated a mild debut with an estimated $1M from 260 locations for a soft $4,012 average for Roadside Attractions. Reviews were somewhat negative. Also in limited release, Michel Gondry’s The We and the I debuted with strong results grossing $12,280 from a solo theater in New York ahead of an expansion to other top markets later this month from Paladin and 108 Media.

The top ten films grossed an estimated $126M which was up 9% from last year when The Lorax remained at number one in its second weekend with $38.8M; and up 13% from 2011 when Battle: Los Angeles debuted in the top spot with $35.6M.

Follow Gitesh on Twitter!

This week at the movies, we’ve got a wonderful wizard (Oz the Great and Powerful, starring James Franco and Mila Kunis) and a pair of avengers (Dead Man Down, starring Noomi Rapace and Colin Farrell). What do the critics have to say?



Oz the Great and Powerful

57%

Few films could hope to match the influence and popularity of The Wizard of Oz, so it was probably a wise move for director Sam Raimi to forge a different path down the Yellow Brick Road with Oz the Great and Powerful, a prequel to the 1939 classic. Whether he was successful is a different matter; some critics find this Oz to be a witty visual phantasmagoria, while others say it suffers from so-so storytelling and inconsistent performances. James Franco stars as a roguish carnival magician who finds himself transported to a magical world. There, he meets a trio of witches and is treated like a king. Can our hero summon the courage and smarts to bring peace to the land of Oz? The pundits say that while Oz the Great and Powerful is often entertaining and always fun to look at, its plot is relatively bland and surprisingly short on magic. (Check out our interviews with Raimi and the stars of Oz, as well as this week’s Total Recall, in which we count down star Michelle Williams’s best-reviewed movies.)



Dead Man Down

41%

Buoyed by the success of the Swedish version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, director Niels Arden Oplev and star Noomi Rapace re-team for the neo-noirish crime thriller Dead Man Down. Unfortunately, critics say it’s a cut blow their previous collaboration; while the fine cast keeps the movie watchable throughout, it’s is weighted down by absurd plot twists and a slack pace. Seeking revenge for the murder of his wife and child, Victor (Colin Farrell) infiltrates a criminal organization with the intention of killing the boss. However, Victor’s also being blackmailed by a mysterious woman (Rapace), who needs his help to settle a score of her own. The pundits say Rapace and Farrell are compelling, but Dead Man Down is too ponderous and clichéd to work as a whole.(Check out Rapace’s Five Favorite Films here.)

Also opening this week in limited release:

  • The Silence, a thriller about a pair of eerily similar crimes that haunt the residents of a small German town, is at 100 percent.
  • Electrick Children, a coming-of-age drama about a sheltered teenager who flees her family for the big city, is at 83 percent.
  • The Romanian drama Beyond The Hills, about a young woman who attempts to convince a childhood friend to leave her orthodox religious community, is at 81 percent.
  • Michel Gondry‘s The We and the I, a comedy about a diverse group of high school students on a bus home from the last day of school, is at 80 percent.
  • Greedy Lying Bastards, a documentary about corporate and political resistance to climate change legislation, is at 80 percent.
  • Don’t Stop Believin’: Everyman’s Journey, a concert doc about the venerable hard rock group and its new singer, is at 68 percent.
  • The Monk, starring Vincent Cassel in a gothic fantasy about a friar who gives in to temptation after meeting a newcomer to the monastery, is at 67 percent.
  • The ABCs of Death, a horror anthology featuring a scary short for each letter of the alphabet, is at 48 percent.
  • Emperor, starring Tommy Lee Jones and Matthew Fox in a period drama about the United States’ post-World War II Occupation of Japan, is at 41 percent.
  • Gut Renovation, a documentary about the gentrification of Brooklyn, is at 29 percent.

Finally, props to Matthew Reimer for coming the closest to guessing The Last Exorcism Part II‘s 14 percent Tomatometer.

 

This week in new family films, we’ve got a pair of protagonists who must journey to unfamiliar lands, be it a magical realm (Oz the Great and Powerful) or a different arcade cabinet (Wreck-it Ralph). Read on to find out what’s appropriate for family viewing.

In Theaters This Week:



Oz the Great and Powerful

57%

What’s it about? James Franco stars as a roguish carnival magician who finds himself transported to a magical world. There, he meets a trio of witches and is treated like a king. Can our hero summon the courage and smarts to bring peace to the land of Oz?

Who’s it for? It’s rated PG for “sequences of action and scary images, and brief mild language.” Oz is certainly too intense for younger viewers; the film includes hordes of bloodthirsty baboons, people turning into witches, and a spooky graveyard scene, among other things.

Is it any good? Critics say Oz the Great and Powerful doesn’t approach the magic of the 1939 Wizard of Oz, but it carves out a personality of its own, with breathtaking special effects and witty performances.

New On DVD:



Wreck-it Ralph

87%

What’s it about? Ralph (voiced by John C. Reilly) is the bad guy in a retro arcade game, but he longs for acceptance and love from his fellow video game characters. So he ventures out of his game in search of adventure and respect — a trek that could have devastating consequences for his pixilated peers.

Who’s it for? It’s rated PG for “some rude humor and mild action/violence.” It’s probably safe for second graders – as a movie about video games, it’s decidedly less intense than your average first-person shooter.

Is it any good? Critics say the Certified Fresh Wreck-it Ralph is a visual phantasmagoria with a clever story and heartfelt characters that should appeal to kids and their parents.

Michelle Williams

From a prime-time soap sweetheart on Dawson’s Creek to a film star with three Academy Award nominations (and counting) under her belt, Michelle Williams has come a long way over the course of her 20-year career — and this weekend, she steps into one of Hollywood’s most hallowed bubbles, playing Glinda the Good Witch in Sam Raimi’s Oz the Great and Powerful. We decided now would be the perfect time to take an appreciative look back at some of her proudest critical moments, and you know what that means: It’s time to Total Recall, Michelle Williams style!


69%

10. Synecdoche, New York

After accumulating loads of Hollywood cachet by penning the screenplays for such critical darlings as Being John Malkovich, Adaptation, and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Charlie Kaufman decided what he really wanted to do was direct — and his debut, 2008’s Synecdoche, New York, turned out to be every bit as original (and/or willfully obtuse) as his fans could have hoped. Starring Philip Seymour Hoffman as a miserable theater director who receives a MacArthur grant and promptly spirals into madness (and Williams as one of his decades-in-development play’s leading ladies), Synecdoche confounded a fair number of critics who thought Kaufman had finally lost the line between profundity and pomposity — but for scribes like Christopher Orr of the New Republic, it was “a huge film about puny sentiments, an anti-heroic epic of failure, remorse, alienation, and self-pity. It may not be the best film of the year, but it is very likely to be the most extraordinary.”


71%

9. Dick

With a pair of bikini-topped girls on the poster, the involvement of someone named Deep Throat, and a title like Dick, you might expect something other than a cheerful political parody from director Andrew Fleming’s 1999 release. But all winking aside, Dick is actually a fairly clever re-imagining of the Watergate scandal, with a pair of teenage girls (played by Michelle Williams and Kirsten Dunst) who stumble into jobs as White House dog walkers after unwittingly ruining the break-in — and subsequently wind up altering the course of the entire administration. Mused Sue Pierman of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, “The film is such a delight not only because it’s clever, but because it so perfectly captures the era.”


79%

8. Take This Waltz

Given that she’d already portrayed a marriage in decline in Blue Valentine, it might have seemed like backtracking for Michelle Williams to play another soon-to-be-former spouse in 2012’s Take This Waltz, but Sarah Polley’s bittersweet drama brought a few twists to the table — including casting Seth Rogen as Williams’ cuckolded husband. Featuring solid supporting turns from Luke Kirby and Sarah Silverman, Waltz proved that in the right hands, a familiar tale can still ring true — even when it’s populated with characters the audience may not always like — as long as it’s willing to tell the truth. As Bill Goodykoontz put it in his review for the Arizona Republic, “If uncompromising honesty is the quality you seek for a film, Michelle Williams is your go-to star.”


83%

7. My Week with Marilyn

Attempting to portray a screen legend like Marilyn Monroe seems like the kind of thankless task for which a director would need to find an inexperienced actress who didn’t know any better — but fortunately for Simon Curtis, whose My Week with Marilyn adapts a pair of Colin Clark memoirs inspired by his time on the set of Monroe’s The Prince and the Showgirl, Michelle Williams was ready and willing to take the job. And while the events that unfold in the movie amount to little more than a footnote in Monroe’s story, her empathetic work in the role helped lift My Week above rote biopic material; as Stephen Whitty put it for the Newark Star-Ledger, “No other actress has quite understood the frustrated, maternal side of Monroe that informed so many of her performances. Or quite recaptured that absolutely luminous quality she had on film.”


85%

6. Wendy and Lucy

Williams has a reputation for picking films that tend toward the depressing end of the dramatic spectrum, and projects like 2008’s Wendy and Lucy are a good example of why. Here, Williams plays a woman who tires of her lonely life in small-town Indiana and decides to set out for a new life in Alaska — but she only gets as far as Oregon before falling victim to a bleak comedy of errors that starts with her car breaking down and doesn’t let up until she’s been arrested and lost her dog. While it might be short on chuckles, director/co-writer Kelly Reichardt’s study of a life gone wrong proved powerfully resonant for critics like the New York Observer’s Andrew Sarris, who wrote, “To her credit, Ms. Reichardt never allows her camera to become a voyeuristic witness to a young woman in distress. Instead, it remains focused on a largely indifferent American landscape of strangers in perpetual motion to nowhere.”

86%

5. Meek’s Cutoff

A wagon train heads through the great American wilderness with a hopelessly incompetent guide leading the way: It might sound like the setup for a dreadful 1990s comedy, but in the hands of director Kelly Reichardt (working from a screenplay by Jonathan Raymond), Meek’s Cutoff served up gritty, historically based drama for fans of westerns that focus more on period detail than rootin’ and/or tootin’. Featuring a bonnet-wearing, buckboard-riding Williams in the midst of talented veterans like Bruce Greenwood, Shirley Henderson, and Paul Dano, Cutoff captivated critics like Ben Sachs of the Chicago Reader, who suggested, “Imagine a collaboration between John Ford and Wallace Stevens, and you might get a sense of what Kelly Reichardt pulls off here: a sincere re-creation of the pioneer experience, brought to life through careful, often unexpected detail.”


88%

4. Lassie

Before Williams scored her big breakout role in the primetime soap Dawson’s Creek, she picked up a couple of noteworthy parts as a child actor — including Paramount’s 1994 Lassie update. Produced by Lorne Michaels and helmed by Beverly Hills Cop screenwriter Daniel Petrie, the 1990s version of the venerable family-friendly franchise wasn’t as “extreme” as its credits might suggest; instead, it offered young audiences another of the warm, resolutely traditional animal-aided adventures the series has always been known for. That was more than enough for most critics, including Roger Ebert, who mused, “It’s somehow reassuring, these days, to see a movie where there’s no problem Lassie can’t solve.”


87%

3. Brokeback Mountain

Williams earned her first Academy Award nomination for her work in Brokeback Mountain, Ang Lee’s critically lauded adaptation of the Annie Proulx short story about a pair of Wyoming ranch hands (played by Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger) whose forbidden love for one another sparks decades of largely unspoken anguish. Like many of Williams’ films, it isn’t exactly a feelgood picture, but its performances offer rich rewards; as Ray Bennett put it for the Hollywood Reporter, “The fine details of the West are as precise as you would expect from a McMurtry piece, and Lee’s adroitness with the excellent cast is on full display, particularly in the brave and moving performances of Ledger and Gyllenhaal.”


86%

2. Blue Valentine

Sometimes it’s a compliment to say a movie is hard to watch — for example, Derek Cianfrance’s Blue Valentine, which invests audiences in the relationship of a young married couple (played by Williams and Ryan Gosling) even after making it clear that their love is doomed to fail. It’s a cruel trick, but one pulled off with an undeniably dark beauty thanks to Williams and Gosling, whose (partially improvised) performances added heft to what might have otherwise been just another drama about a ukulele-strumming alcoholic’s broken marriage. Saying it “has a palpable air of claustrophobic danger,” Moira Macdonald of the Seattle Times wrote, “You constantly expect something terrible to be happening to these characters. And, indeed, something does.”


94%

1. The Station Agent

The end of Dawson’s Creek in 2003 freed up Williams to pursue film work full-time — and she didn’t miss a beat while stepping into the next phase of her career, scoring a supporting role in the critically adored The Station Agent. Starring Peter Dinklage as Fin, a reclusive hobby-shop worker who moves into an abandoned train depot after learning his boss has willed it to him, only to discover it isn’t quite the secluded source of isolation he’d hoped for, Agent is part sweet comedy, part tender drama, and most of all a smartly written showcase for the gifts of its impeccably chosen cast, which included Patricia Clarkson and Williams as two damaged women who enter Fin’s orbit. “The Station Agent never leaves its sleepy patch of New Jersey,” mused Salon’s Charles Taylor. “But when it’s over, you know you’ve been somewhere.”


In case you were wondering, here are Williams’ top 10 movies according to RT users’ scores:

1. The Station Agent — 88%
2. The United States of Leland — 81%
3. Imaginary Heroes — 79%
4. Brokeback Mountain — 77%
5. Me Without You — 76%
6. Blue Valentine — 75%
7. Shutter Island — 73%
8. The Baxter — 73%
9. My Week with Marilyn — 72%
10. Synecdoche, New York — 70%


Take a look through Williams’ complete filmography, as well as the rest of our Total Recall archives. And don’t forget to check out the reviews for Oz the Great and Powerful.

Finally, here’s Williams dispensing makeup tips in a 1995 episode of Home Improvement:

Oz the Great and Powerful opens in theaters March 8th, starring James Franco as the man who eventually ends up behind the curtain that Dorothy wasn’t supposed to pay attention to. The cast and director discuss what fibs they’ve told in their lives and who is their biggest supporter. James Franco talks about his grandma (swoon).

 

 

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