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]
(Photo by Warner Bros. Thumbnail: New Line, Vertical Entertainment /courtesy Everett Collection)
20 Movies To Watch If You Loved Inception
Ten years ago, Inception, the dream-team movie collaboration between Leonardo DiCaprio and Christopher Nolan, rode into theaters on a wave of hype and secrecy matching the director’s previous game-changer, The Dark Knight. The dizzying dream heist thriller floored audiences with its complex shots – a city collapsing on itself, along with the practical effects wizardry of rotating hallway brawls – and a densely, literally layered plot. It left audiences wanting more… and we’re here to help. If you’re looking for more movies like Inception, the two other Nolan films that hew most closely are 1999’s brain-splitter Memento, and 2006’s treacherous The Prestige. But you, esteemed Tomato-reader, already knew that, have seen ’em both – probably many times – and thus know the joys of a David-Bowie-as-Nikola-Tesla performance! We present, then, 20 more movies to watch if you loved Inception.
First, there’s Shutter Island, which has a lot of overlap with Inception, and not just because they star the same guy. They’re both slick, dark thrillers that question reality and perception. (See our list of 20 movies to watch if you loved Shutter Island, which has more Incept-y movies like Dark City and The Game.)
What makes a movie like Inception? The initial response is for some cracking sci-fi mind-f–kers. The number of these films has exploded since 2000, especially in the last decade: Think the space-time continuum-whacking Predestination, Primer, and Timecrimes. Movies like Mr. Nobody, The Congress, The Cell, Coherence, Time Lapse, and Enemy explore identity across multiple realities. Inception shares the most in the plot department with Satoshi Kon’s anime Paprika.
But the mood really started in the ’90s. An approaching new millennium felt like crossing a threshold into the unknown future, where technology, like Inception‘s mechanics to hijack dreams, brought limitless opportunities and dangers. The Truman Show, eXistenZ, Being John Malkovich, and The Thirteenth Floor explore this space. Earlier brain-hopping takes include adventure romp Dreamscape, and the absurdly violent Total Recall. Then there’s Rainer Werner Fassbinder, who was on simulated realities in the 1970s with World on a Wire, which Criterion has pressed for its original 3.5 hour cut.
Of course, Inception wouldn’t have resonated if it was all just sleight-of-hands and technical games; DiCaprio’s family drama provided a compelling emotional hook. Movies that have this same melancholic thread in complicated settings include Robin Williams afterlife fantasy/drama What Dreams May Come, and the existentially devastating Synecdoche, New York.
Critics Consensus:Mr. Nobody's narrative tangles may bedevil as much as they entertain, but its big ambitions and absorbing visuals make for an intriguing addition to director Jaco Van Dormael's filmography.
Synopsis: In 2092 the last mortal human (Jared Leto) on Earth reflects on his long past and thinks about the lives... [More]
Critics Consensus: A funny, tender, and thought-provoking film, The Truman Show is all the more noteworthy for its remarkably prescient vision of runaway celebrity culture and a nation with an insatiable thirst for the private details of ordinary lives.
Synopsis: He doesn't know it, but everything in Truman Burbank's (Jim Carrey) life is part of a massive TV set. Executive... [More]
There isn’t a whole lot of new stuff to check out on Netflix this week, but Amazon Prime added a ton of great films ranging from classic horror comedies to cult favorite action flicks and from quiet family dramas to Certified Fresh children’s films . Check out the full list below.
Emma Thompson and Kate Winslet star in Ang Lee’s adaptation of the Jane Austen novel about the efforts of a widow and her daughters to deal with the sudden poverty brought about by the death of her husband.
It’s got a killer soundtrack, a star-making performance from John Travolta, and a narrative that’s far grittier and sadder than decades of parodies would suggest. The director’s cut is now available to stream.
Ethan Hawke and Sara Snook star in this mindbending sci-fi mystery about a time-traveling agent whose chance meeting with a stranger during the 1970s leads to revelations in his decade-spanning investigation.
Julia Roberts and Steve Buscemi lend their voices to this live-action adaptation of the beloved children’s novel about a farm pig who, with the help of a friendly spider, convinces his owners he’s too unique to be slaughtered.
Tom Hanks and Denzel Washington star in Jonathan Demme’s timely drama about an attorney with AIDS who takes his own firm to court for wrongful termination after he suspects one of his colleagues discovered his condition and prompted his firing.
The sixth season of FX’s popular horror anthology series utilizes a mock true crime documentary format to tell the tale of a married couple who move into a rural North Carolina farmhouse and experience supernatural terror.
Luc Besson hit his groove with this cult favorite, starring Jean Reno as a withdrawn hitman saddled with an orphaned 12-year-old (Natalie Portman) after her family is slaughtered by a corrupt cop (Gary Oldman).
Andy Serkis returns as ape leader Caesar in the third installment of the rebooted Planet of the Apes franchise, which finds the apes squaring off against a ruthless colonel bent on eradicating all threats to humans.
In between all the Jurassic worlds, impossible missions, hunger games, and other fast, furious blockbusters, 2015 saw the release of hundreds of smaller films that fluttered in and out of just a few theaters and attracted a mere fraction of the audience. Some of them were hot garbage, to be sure, but some of them were more than worth the price of admission. With that in mind, we here on staff at Rotten Tomatoes have compiled a list of our favorite films from the past year that most folks either never had a chance to see or never even knew existed. Read on for our Off the Radar picks of 2015!
Writer/Director/Star Desiree Akhavan’s debut film Appropriate Behavior follows a similar structure to Woody Allen’s Annie Hall, if Allen were a bisexual first generation Persian-American Brooklynite woman in her late twenties. The film follows Shirin as she gets over a bad break-up with her girlfriend, starts a new career and comes out (sort of) to her Persian parents. This journey is interspersed with flashbacks of how she met her now-ex-girlfriend Maxine at a party, how the two fell in love and moved in together, and how the inevitable break-up occurred. Achingly raw and personal, Akhavan finds the humor in loneliness, the need for connections (from hook-ups and relationships to friendships and family), and the perils of twenty-something life. Fans of recent Brooklyn-set films Obvious Child and Frances Ha may find Appropriate Behavior the perfect movie for a threesome. — Marya E. Gates, Social Media Specialist
Writer-director Cary Fukunaga can set a beautiful scene, and Idris Elba turns in a larger-than-life performance in a way that very few actors can, but the powerhouse in Beasts of No Nation is undoubtedly its protagonist. First-time actor Abraham Attah is achingly poignant as Agu, a boy who loses his family to the violence of a rising war, and is then forced to join a captivating Commandant (Elba) and his battalion of child soldiers. In a story that takes place “somewhere” in war-torn Africa during a conflict that goes unnamed, Agu’s struggle to endure confronts us with a very specific emotional truth that is positively riveting– earning Attah the Marcello Mastroianni Award at the Venice Film Festival and the Breakthrough Performance Award from The National Board of Review. Due to it’s unique distribution deal with Netflix, some of the biggest theater chains across the U.S. opted to boycott Beasts of No Nation. So, many theater-goers never had a chance to enjoy it on the big screen. But have no fear; it’s still available to stream on Netflix. — Zayre Ferrer, Review Aggregator
I can’t pretend to know what it’s like to be a teenage girl, but if I did, I suspect I’d probably find Mélanie Laurent’s sophomore effort, Breathe, to be an accurate representation. Based on a novel by Anne-Sophie Brasme, the film’s script feels persuasively genuine, initially as a straightforward coming-of-age story about a demure high schooler named Charlie (Joséphine Japy) who befriends a new classmate, wild child Sarah (Lou de Laâge), and learns to open up to new experiences. But before long, Charlie discovers a secret Sarah’s been hiding, and that’s when the claws come out; their relationship begins to crumble, and what began as an earnest friendship quickly turns sinister. While the characters ring true and the film is beautifully shot, the real treat here is the work done by relative newcomers Japy and de Laâge, who absolutely own the screen. Not only is Breathe a surehanded triumph for Laurent, it signals the bold arrival of two talented young actresses we can look forward to seeing more of in the future. — Ryan Fujitani, Editor
The year is 1952, and Eilis Lacey, a young Irish woman with few prospects in her small town home, emigrates to America. Saoirse Ronan stars as Eilis, showing us a woman who initially struggles with desperate homesickness, but eventually blossoms into a new life in Brooklyn. This isn’t a movie with big, dramatic moments and intense conflicts; on the contrary, it’s a subtle, almost leisurely film with seemingly small character moments that add up to something so emotionally engaging that it may catch you off guard. Eilis’ personal growth is conveyed by a pitch-perfect performance from Ronan, and the supporting cast (Emory Cohen, Jim Broadbent, Julie Walters, and Domhnall Gleeson) put in similarly grounded performances. Ironically, those grounded performances are part of what makes Brooklyn such a magical movie. The retrained direction, beautiful cinematography, and wonderful writing show us America through an immigrant’s eyes, with all of the promise and hope that they brought with them. — Matt Atchity, Editor-in-Chief
It’s rare to see a young female protagonist discover her sexuality and feel all the feels that come with it as boldly and honestly as we see here in Marielle Heller’s fantastic directorial debut. The Diary of a Teenage Girl, which Heller adapted from Phoebe Gloeckner’s semi autobiographical graphic novel, is set in the haze of 1970s San Francisco and wrought with the emotions so many teenage women feel and yet never see on the big screen. One might not begin their sexual journey with their mother’s lover, but there is something genuinely universal about Minnie’s (the marvelous Bel Powley) journey. Heller bears delicate witness to a young woman’s awakening rather than pass judgement. Imagine if young women were allowed the same transgressions, confusion, curiosities, and triumphs that young men are allowed on film; imagine a young woman’s story told from her point of view. Well, Heller did, and I hope everyone is taking notice. — Andria Hopkins, Review Aggregator
What does it mean to be human? This question has been asked in movies countless times, and still we don’t seem to have exhausted all the answers. In Alex Garland’s directorial debut, computer programmer Caleb Smith (Domhnall Gleeson) wins a competition to spend a week at the estate of this company’s CEO, Nathan Bateman (Oscar Isaac.) Upon his arrival, he finds out he will be conducting a Turing test to evaluate an artificial intelligence’s capability to “think.” Has Ava (Alicia Vikander) evolved into a self-aware being, or is she just mimicking human behavior? And what are the consequences of that answer? As the test progresses, a number of unsettling situations will make Caleb question Ava’s and Nathan’s intentions, and his own role in the events that follow. With great performances and beautiful visuals, Ex Machina is filled with tension and secrets from beginning to end. Its cerebral plot will keep you interested and wondering where Caleb’s quest will take them all. — Julio de Oliveira, Project Manager
“I mean, I don’t have herpes, but it’s OK with me if you do.” This line could get a cheap laugh in a number of Sandler/Rogen/Ferrell films, but when it’s blurted in a scene about senior speed-dating in I’ll See You in My Dreams, it’s actually funny. Really, though, it would be challenging to find the film anything but affecting. Blythe Danner’s intimate, soft-spoken technique is a warm, tender filter for the often scary subject matter known as senior single-hood. Adults of all ages, though, ought to delve into it because this rare gem isn’t handled with kid — or senior — gloves. It’s just… real. A light, delicate approach to Danner’s relationships with both co-stars Sam Elliott and Martin Starr delights while drawing empathy, and a stoned walk home from the grocery store by a group of ardently inconspicuous senior citizens brings honest laughter. While it can be heart-mangling at times, the sweetly uplifting film almost makes the idea of growing old alone seem not so terrifying. — Kerr Lordygan, Associate TV Editor
Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter is a high-wire act. Based on the (broadly embellished) true story of a Japanese woman who froze to death while allegedly searching for the briefcase that Steve Buscemi buried in Fargo (and encountering baffled locals along the way), Kumiko‘s rough outline suggests the possibility of a mildly condescending culture-clash comedy. In the hands of filmmakers David and Nathan Zellner and star Rinko Kikuchi, what emerges instead is an unusually sharp study of a boundlessly lonely and deeply troubled woman that somehow never feels depressing itself. Beautifully photographed (metropolitan Tokyo feels as empty and forlorn as North Dakota’s frozen desolation), bleakly funny, and deeply humanistic, Kumiko is also blessed with a final act of haunting, almost mythical, power. I love this movie to death, but more than that, I really happy it exists in the first place. — Tim Ryan, Senior Editor
Full disclosure — this is a kid with cancer movie. What separates it from the pack is a biting sense of humor, captivating characters, and a love of cinema. Thomas Mann stars as Greg, who’s crafting the “mopey teenager” thing into an art form. When his mother (Connie Britton) tells him that his neighbor Rachel (Olivia Cooke) has leukemia, she forces him to go visit. They develop a friendship that involves making fun of people who are sad about cancer and Earl, who Greg makes movie parodies with. Although the storyline isn’t necessarily the most surprising, with charismatic actors, fun movie references, and a good heart underneath all the sass, Me and Earl is definitely worth watching with some Kleenex on hand… just in case you need to ball it up and throw it at the person sitting next to you who’s crying like a dummy. — Grae Drake, Senior Editor
Mississippi Grind is a road trip buddy flick about a couple of degenerate gamblers, and if that description doesn’t exactly fill you with a burning desire to watch Ryan Reynolds and Ben Mendelsohn make a slow, often uncomfortable journey toward a high-stakes poker game in New Orleans, that’s perfectly understandable. After all, if there’s a genre that’s been more thoroughly picked clean (or more often mishandled) than the road trip picture, it might be the gambling drama. But if you can make your way past the assumption that you’ve already seen Mississippi Grind‘s sad story played out in dozens of other pictures, there’s a genuinely affecting film waiting to be discovered here — one whose contemplative pace and thoughtful cinematography recall the meandering charm of certain ’70s Hollywood classics, topped off with some of Reynolds’ best work and a reliably superb performance from Mendelsohn. — Jeff Giles, Associate Editor
A graphic bomb disposal failure serves as opening to Predestination, which then whisks viewers onto the next stop of its whirlwind temporal tour. The year is now 1978: a bartender (Ethan Hawke) offers a bottle of liquor to a patron (Sarah Snook) in exchange for a shocking story. The patron speaks of shadowy corporations, unrequited love, and intersex transformations, and at the end of the tale, the bartender offers his own twist: a chance to go back in time and fix the mistakes. As moviegoers we like time travel stories because they’re fun to dissect and pick apart, a sort of scrutiny that challenges filmmakers to match their plot pieces together logically. Predestination makes no such audience concessions, reveling that this tightly-wound movie is a paradox to the core. What is at first confusing takes on a haunted quality, then the creep factor gets cranked up so high it becomes weirdly, grossly sweet. — Alex Vo, Editor
If you have an appreciation for anything slightly spooky, but also like a good laugh, What We Do in the Shadows is well worth your time. It’s a mockumentary about a quartet of vampires living in a flat in Wellington, New Zealand. And it turns out that flatmates are flatmates, whether you’re undead or not. (Un)living with others requires give and take, and that includes putting up with flat meetings, chore assignments, and remembering to leave the living room tidy after a kill. After debuting at Sundance in 2014, What We Do in the Shadows received its official US release in February 2015. The cast is great, and everyone plays their parts with ghoulish abandon. Jemaine Clement is wonderful as Vladislav (yes, THAT Vlad!), but the most committed bloodsucker of the bunch is Taika Waititi as Viago (Clement and Waititi also wrote the script). Also Ben Fransham is frightfully fantastic as Petyr. For vampires werewolves, zombies, and plenty of laughs, spend a night with these silly sanguinarians. — Beki Lane, Associate TV Editor
In 2010, a fledgling documentarian was walking down New York City’s First Avenue when a wild group of boys ran past her. They were the Angulo brothers, and all six of them had spent most of their lives informally imprisoned in a small apartment by their bizarre and controlling father. The filmmaker, Crystal Moselle, bonded with the boys over their shared love of cinema and she commenced the filming of a documentary about the Angulos’ unusual lives. Unable to experience the world in the flesh, the brothers had been living vicariously through watching movies, and then elaborately re-creating them with their limited resources. Though many essential details of their confinement are frustratingly ignored by the film, The Wolfpack does its subjects justice by focusing on the brothers’ limitless creativity, insatiable curiosity, and innate desire to be free. As the saying goes, boys will be boys, and there’s no better evidence of that than Moselle’s uplifting and moving 2015 documentary. — Sarah Ricard, TV Editor
Though we predict with bottled anticipation that Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip‘s next two-hundred reviews will be positives, for now there exists 144 Certified Fresh movies from this year (compared to 133 in 2014, and 114 in 2013). How many have you seen?
This week on home video, we’ve got a surprisingly solid list of new films to check out, including no less than five Certified Fresh movies. Considering the glut of bad movies plaguing most cineplexes these days, the offerings below make a strong case for staying in. Read on for details:
Jake Gyllenhaal’s really been on a tear in recent years. Beginning with 2011’s Source Code, he’s starred in five straight Certified Fresh films, and his most recent effort even drew some awards attention. Nightcrawler stars Gyllenhaal as a petty thief who spies a future in amateur video journalism and, after selling some footage to a news director (Rene Russo), begins a dark downward spiral into his most sociopathic impulses. The feature directing debut of screenwriter Dan Gilroy, Nightcrawler earned high marks from critics who cited Gyllenhaal’s creepy performance as a highlight and made comparisons to Taxi Driver. Certified Fresh at 95 percent, this is a dark thriller that operates equally well as a thought-provoking satire of sensationalist news media.
Live action family films — decent ones, anyway — seem to be rarer in supply these days, so it’s always a nice surprise when one comes along that’s pleasant and suitably entertaining. Based on the popular 1972 children’s book of the same name, Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day is about exactly what its title indicates: on the day before his 12th birthday, a young boy named Alexander (Ed Oxenbould) stumbles through an extremely unfortunate series of events. Spoiler alert: everything turns out okay. Most critics found Alexander a perfectly fine diversion for parents to share with their kids, even if the film fails to make a strong, lasting impression, and awarded it a respectable 62 percent on the Tomatometer. It’s not the best kids’ movie around, but it’s pretty harmless and good-natured.
During the Summer of 2013, Jon Stewart took a short break from Comedy Central’s The Daily Show to focus on his feature directorial debut, a drama based on a true story that, at least peripherally, involved him. Rosewater depicts the plight of Iranian-Canadian journalist Maziar Bahari (played by Gael García Bernal), who was detained by Iran in 2009 after he sent video footage of post-election riots to the BBC. Held in prison for almost four months, Bahari was tortured and interrogated about, among other things, his appearance on Stewart’s satirical show, before finally being released. Based on the best-selling memoir that Bahari wrote about the experience, Rosewater earned mostly strong reviews from critics, who rewarded the film with a Certified Fresh 74 percent for its timely subject matter, Bernal’s performance, and Stewart’s prowess in his first stint behind the camera.
It’s unusual for a genre flick released during the first half of January to earn high marks from critics, especially one that, save for the involvement of star Ethan Hawke, reads more like something you might find in the direct-to-dvd listings, but Predestination managed to beat the odds. In it, Hawke plays an unnamed “Temporal Agent,” tasked with time-traveling to the past to stop crime. Given one last job before retirement, the Agent travels to the 1970s to meet with a man whose unusual life story leads to a twisty, decade-hopping pursuit of the truth. Certified Fresh at 81 percent, Predestination impressed critics with its surprisingly smart storytelling — as well as a remarkable performance from costar Sarah Snook — and helped offer a mindbending alternative to the usual January dreck.
Also available this week:
The Cannes Festival-winning Force Majeure (93 percent), a Swedish drama about a small family vacationing in the alps whose bonds are tested when its patriarch leaves them in the lurch during an avalanche scare.
Taiwanese import Stray Dogs (88 percent), a drama about a destitute man living on the streets and his two children, who encounter a mysterious woman that may change their lives.
Kill the Messenger (77 percent), a Certified Fresh thriller starring Jeremy Renner as Gary Webb, the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who publicized his findings on the birth of the crack epidemic and the shady dealings of the CIA.
Felony (74 percent), starring Joel Edgerton and Tom Wilkinson in a crime thriller about three detectives at odds with each other after an accident that nearly kills a child.
Lynn Shelton’s Laggies (69 percent), starring Keira Knightley and Chloe Grace Moretz in a dramedy about a 28-year-old slacker who befriends a teen and falls for her father.
Addicted (8 percent), a drama about a married woman who embarks down a dark road of temptation.
HBO’s miniseries Olive Kitteridge (95 percent), starring Frances McDormand and Bill Murray in a four-part adaptation of the Elizabeth Strout novel of the same name.
Season six of Showtime’s dark dramedy Nurse Jackie (67 percent), starring Edie Falco as a drug-addicted nurse.
And finally, two choices from the Criterion Collection: Nicolas Roeg’s classic thriller Don’t Look Now (96 percent), starring Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie, and Jean Renoir’s A Day in the Country (100 percent), a shorter feature about a family’s idyllic vacation in the French countryside.
Taken helped to establish Liam Neeson as Hollywood’s go-to middle-aged tough guy. But critics say what was once fresh has become formulaic, as Taken 3 (like its predecessor) is an over-caffeinated action fest elevated by Neeson’s presence but diminished by its absurd plot. This time out, our hero is framed for the murder of his wife, and must outwit the various cops and intelligence agents on his trail in order to find the real killers. The pundits say that any film with Neeson and Forest Whitaker is sure to contain moments worth watching, but overall Taken 3 is too slackly paced and frenetically edited to work as a giddy pleasure. (Check out this week’s 24 Frames for a gallery of old guys who still bring the pain.)
It’s not easy for a movie to bring history to life, and it’s even more difficult to capture the atmosphere and drama of an event from recent memory. But critics say that’s what director Ava DuVernay has done with Selma, a searing, vital drama that taps into of one of the Civil Rights era’s most tumultuous moments and features an astonishing performance from David Oyelowo as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. It’s an account of the 1965 Selma to Montgomery marches, where demonstrators met serious resistance at the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Alabama, as well as from local and national politicians. The pundits say the Certified FreshSelma is powerfully acted, beautifully shot, and, above all, emotionally resonant — in short, one of the best films of the year.
Critics say that while it’s heavy on melodrama, Empire (Certified Fresh at 86 percent) elevates the nighttime soap with its top-notch cast, musical entertainment, and engrossing plots.
The pundits say that while the jokes in Galavant (Certified Fresh at 83 percent) ride the line of predictability, their execution, along with campy themes and silly musical numbers, make it memorably entertaining.
Also opening this week in limited release:
Valley Of Saints, a drama about a man whose attempts to escape a life of poverty are stymied by a military curfew in the disputed Kashmir region, is at 100 percent.
Farewell, Herr Schwarz, a documentary about a reunion of siblings who survived the Holocaust, is at 88 percent.
Preservation, a thriller about three people on a camping trip who are menaced by sinister figures, is at 80 percent.
It’s All So Quiet, a drama about a Dutch farmer dealing with the impending death of his father and his own suppressed homosexuality, is at 67 percent.
La última película, a comedy about a pretentious director who makes a nuisance of himself on location at Mayan historical sites, is at 67 percent.
Black November, starring Mickey Rourke and Kim Basinger in a drama about a group of Nigerian rebels who kidnap an oil company executive to hold him accountable for his unethical dealings in their country, is at 20 percent.
Dark Summer, a thriller about a teenager under house arrest who’s bedeviled by a mysterious visitor, is at 17 percent.