Studio Ghibli is arguably the most recognizable and beloved animated studio outside of Disney/Pixar, one that has proven time and time again that animation is more than just entertainment aimed at kids thanks to critically acclaimed movies that challenge what you can do in the medium. So it’s easy to understand, then, that the moment one of the studio’s main directors, Hayao Miyazaki decided to retire (the first time), fans around the world began searching for a successor. Rather than a studio, could it be an auteur like Mamoru Hosoda (Summer Wars, Mirai) or Makoto Shinkai (Your Name, Weathering with You)? Would it be a studio founded by former Ghibli employees like Studio Ponoc, makers of 2018’s Mary and the Witch’s Flower?

It might, in fact, be none of the above. In truth, the animation studio that best captures the magic of Studio Ghibli and the themes they explore, all while carving out an identity and space in the industry of its own, is Cartoon Saloon. The Irish studio founded in 1999 has earned Academy Awards nominations for every single feature film it’s produced, and all of them are Certified Fresh at 90% or above on the Tomatometer. Its latest offering, Wolfwalkers, is being called the best animated film of the year by several critics, and it demonstrates why Cartoon Saloon’s unique blend of traditional animation and folklore make it the true successor to Studio Ghibli.


Their Films Deal with Folklore and Myth

Wolfwalkers

(Photo by ©Apple TV+)

You don’t need to be familiar with yōkai or kodama to appreciate Princess Mononoke, and you certainly don’t need to know what a tanuki is in order to enjoy Pom Poko, but with both, you certainly do get the feeling that you’re watching a movie that’s deeply rooted in Japanese culture. Hayao Miyazaki and the people at Studio Ghibli don’t really adapt specific folktales the way Disney does, but they add creatures and beliefs as flavor to deepen the story and the cultural context. My Neighbor Totoro’s titular character may not be based on any specific creature of lore, but he is still instantly recognizable as an uniquely Japanese being.

The movies of Cartoon Saloon aren’t direct adaptations of any particular tales either, but they incorporate folkloric creatures and beliefs. Wolfwalkers takes its central concept from old myths about natives of the Kilkenny region in Ireland being able to transform into wolves while their bodies lie in a sort of trance, while Song of the Sea is about selkies, or humans that could transform into seals. These two movies, as well as the studio’s feature debut The Secret of Kells, make up an unofficial trilogy about Irish folklore, using legends and myths to tell fantastical stories about the conflict that arises when belief and tradition are threatened or abandoned.

Even if The Secret of Kells and Wolfwalkers are period pieces steeped in important moments of Irish history, there is a universality to their stories. You don’t need to know about Oliver Cromwell’s conquest of Ireland to understand Wolfwalkers’ central conflict and how it affects its main character’s relationship with her father — who works for Cromwell himself. But it does add some context that grounds the film in a real place and a real moment in time.


They Explore Humanity’s Relationship with Nature

Wolfwalkers

(Photo by Cartoon Saloon)

As evident even in their earliest films, a big part of Ghibli movies is the focus on humanity’s fragile relationship with the environment and the struggle between nature and industrial progress. Miyazaki’s films in particular often explore how technology causes people to drift away from their cultural traditions while factories damage the land they live on. Perhaps the most obvious example of this is Princess Mononoke, a movie all about nature fighting back when humans start burning down forests to expand their towns and their industry.

Song of the Sea is partially about a Celtic goddess who threatens to destroy the world, but director Tomm Moore uses that as a starting point to tell a story about what happens when people begin to lose their cultural identity. Like many a Miyazaki film, Song of the Sea depicts the city as an oppressive, dirty place that drowns the freedom of the country and its children as the ones who are best suited carry on the country’s cultural heritage while the city’s inhabitants forget about it.

Wolfwalkers definitely takes some pointers from Princess Mononoke in its central conflict — a group of humans who set out to kill every wolf in the nearby woods — except the “nature vs. industry” conflict is used as an allegory for the Cromwellian ideal of taming the wild Irish lands and burning down traditions to replace them with English principles. As with Song of the Sea, the distinction between the city and the country informs the visual style as well. Kilkenny and its walls are drawn with geometric rigidity, and it almost resembles a prison as it looms in the background — just like the city cars in Song of the Sea, which only serve to spew black smoke and narrowly avoid hitting innocent children. Meanwhile, the art style of the woods, trees, and wolf of the forest are more sketched-out, with traditional Celtic spiral pattens to show the wolves haven’t been tamed, for they represent the “real” cultural Ireland.


Their Visual Styles are Exquisite and Unique

Wolfwalkers

(Photo by ©Apple TV+)

As a studio grows and its films become more popular, a visual style is bound to emerge. Anyone can recognize Disney’s particular trademarks, just as all of Pixar films take on a similar visual language. Studio Ghibli’s films are instantly recognizable too, and yet they all feel and look incredibly different from each other. This balance between versatility and recognizability is the key to Cartoon Saloon.

The Irish studio’s unique visual style appears in every one of their movies, which feel like they belong in a strange sort of multiverse. At a time when CG animation is everywhere, Cartoon Saloon’s style feels defiant and stunning, but each of their films feels distinct from one another, as they try to capture the aesthetic of their subject matter. The Secret of Kells feels like an illustrated picture book to mimic the illuminated Christian tome that gives it its name, whereas The Breadwinner looks and feels distinctly like Afghan art, and Wolfwalkers pays homage to the wood-cut illustrations of the 1600s. By now, you know how to recognize a Cartoon Saloon film, but they always manage to offer some surprises, too.


They Aren’t Afraid of the Dark

Wolfwalkers

(Photo by ©Apple TV+)

Though animation has a bit of a reputation for being kids’ entertainment in the West, Studio Ghibli is a perfect example of why this is entirely untrue. Not only do their more kid-friendly movies like Kiki’s Delivery Service tackle deeper and darker subjects like depression, but no one would dare call Grave of the Fireflies — a movie about two kids trying to survive in Japan during WWII — a kids movie.

Similarly, Cartoon Saloon’s movies are certainly entertainment made for broader audiences, but they also often go to darker places. The studio’s debut film, The Secret of Kells deals with an incoming Viking invasion, and Song of the Sea‘s main theme is grief and loss, but they are still stories being told through the eyes of kids. The protagonist of Wolfwalkers is literally hunted by her father at one point, but it’s The Breadwinner, the studio’s third feature, that best exemplifies their diversity in storytelling. The film follows a young Afghan girl posing as a boy to help her family survive after her father is imprisoned as a dissident by the ruling Taliban. This film is clearly aimed at a slightly older audience — hence its PG-13 rating — as it explores a more mature subject matter in its war-torn world, and even the colors are more naturalistic compared to the rest of the studio’s filmography.


They Entrust the Future to Children

Wolfwalkers

(Photo by ©Apple TV+)

It’s not only that Cartoon Saloon’s movies can get dark, it’s that the worlds of the films feel like they’re approaching a cataclysmic ending, even as they somehow remain optimistic about the future.

A village is threatened by Vikings coming to destroy it; a little girl is engulfed in a war; a sea deity wants to turn the world to stone; the new people in charge want to burn the forest down. There’s a sense of urgency and doom looming large over each of Cartoon Saloon’s feature films, brought upon by the hubris of man — a theme the studio shares with Ghibli. Hayao Miyazaki’s movies in particular often deal with the error of trusting mankind to treat the world with respect. And yet, both studios seem to deeply trust their young protagonists and believe that children are the ones who will save the Earth. Parvana faces horrible, horrible things in The Breadwinner, but in her own small way, she wins in the end. War and evil will continue and people will still reject wolves and nature, but at least the children will be all right and grow up to do incredible things, hopefully with the lessons they’ve learned throughout their journeys in both Studio Ghibli’s and Cartoon Saloon’s films firmly rooted in their hearts.


Wolfwalkers debuted on November 13, 2020 and is currently available to stream on Apple TV+.

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Warner Bros.

The 99% Club: An Ode to the Almost-Perfect Movie

The 99% Club: You’ll find it, way past 98% on the Tomatometer, but just before 100%. Inside, a coterie of cinema’s practically-finest, movies promising an experience beyond most others – movies that are almost perfect. These are the ones to warm hearts, stir the soul, call forth eruptions of laughter, and rattle your bones. To anyone who approaches to see and hear their stories, they will enthrall the audience…save the stray naysayer or two, of course.

Its members are fleeting; membership comes with no lifetime guarantee. Any additional Rotten reviews could toss the movie from the 99% Club and into the gutter that is a 98% score, to associate with the likes of Wizard of Oz and The Godfather.

You’ll notice most in the 99% Club are from this century. Movies may or may not be getting better, but they are getting reviewed more. When a work generates nearly 400 critics’ appraisals, its Tomatometer score can better endure Rotten reviews and sustain its 99% score. Classic films, by dint of having fewer reviews in written existence, can have their scores torpedoed by a single Rotten remark.

The 99% Club: On the cusp of triple-digit Valhalla. Come join in their almost-perfection.

#59
#59
Adjusted Score: 104015%
Critics Consensus: Rich, insightful, and occasionally heartbreaking, 20 Feet From Stardom is an energetic tribute to the passion, talent, and hard work of backup singers.
Synopsis: Filmmaker Morgan Neville shines a long-overdue spotlight on the hit-making contributions of longtime backup singers like Darlene Love and Merry... [More]
Directed By: Morgan Neville

#58

56 Up (2012)
99%

#58
Adjusted Score: 100090%
Critics Consensus: Director Michael Apted continues to utilize cinema as a window into the lives of everyday people, and in the reflection of this documentary we can glimpse our own aging humanity.
Synopsis: Continuing a project he began in 1964, filmmaker Michael Apted revisits his original subjects and sees how their lives are... [More]
Directed By: Michael Apted, Paul Almond

#57

Darbareye Elly (2009)
99%

#57
Adjusted Score: 100137%
Critics Consensus: About Elly offers viewers performances as powerful as its thought-provoking ideas, and adds another strong entry to Asghar Farhadi's impressive filmography.
Synopsis: A young teacher disappears before being introduced to a potential suitor in northern Iran.... [More]
Directed By: Asghar Farhadi

#56

All About Eve (1950)
99%

#56
Adjusted Score: 109909%
Critics Consensus: Smart, sophisticated, and devastatingly funny, All About Eve is a Hollywood classic that only improves with age.
Synopsis: Backstage story revolving around aspiring actress Eve Harrington. Tattered and forlorn, Eve shows up in the dressing room of Broadway... [More]
Directed By: Joseph L. Mankiewicz

#55

Amazing Grace (2018)
99%

#55
Adjusted Score: 108282%
Critics Consensus: Brilliantly capturing a remarkable performer near the peak of her prodigious power, Amazing Grace is a thrilling must-watch documentary for Aretha Franklin fans.
Synopsis: Singer Aretha Franklin performs gospel songs at the New Temple Missionary Baptist Church in Los Angeles in 1972.... [More]
Starring: Aretha Franklin
Directed By: Alan Elliott

#54

Apollo 11 (2019)
99%

#54
Adjusted Score: 109212%
Critics Consensus: Edifying and inspiring in equal measure, Apollo 11 uses artfully repurposed archival footage to send audiences soaring back to a pivotal time in American history.
Synopsis: Never-before-seen footage and audio recordings take you straight into the heart of NASA's most celebrated mission as astronauts Neil Armstrong,... [More]
Directed By: Todd Douglas Miller

#53
#53
Adjusted Score: 108176%
Critics Consensus: Ash Is Purest White finds writer-director Zhangke Jia revisiting familiar themes while continuing to observe modern Chinese society with an urgent, empathetic eye.
Synopsis: In an industrial city in China, a young dancer named Qiao falls in love with a mobster named Bin. When... [More]
Directed By: Jia Zhangke

#52
#52
Adjusted Score: 106787%
Critics Consensus: A documentary-like depiction of a nation's real-life efforts to expel a colonizing force, The Battle of Algiers puts viewers on the front lines with gripping realism.
Synopsis: Paratrooper commander Colonel Mathieu (Jean Martin), a former French Resistance fighter during World War II, is sent to 1950s Algeria... [More]
Directed By: Gillo Pontecorvo

#51
#51
Adjusted Score: 100188%
Critics Consensus: Suffused with happiness and modest charm, Bill Cunningham New York offers a touching, gently humorous portrait of its subject without invading his jealously guarded privacy.
Synopsis: Bill Cunningham, one of the mainstays of the New York Times, has been a contributor to the renowned newspaper for... [More]
Directed By: Richard Press

#50

Cameraperson (2016)
99%

#50
Adjusted Score: 106401%
Critics Consensus: Fresh and inventive yet immediately accessible, Cameraperson distills its subject's life and career into an experience that should prove immediately absorbing even for those unfamiliar with her work.
Synopsis: Cinematographer Kirsten Johnson exposes her many years behind the camera through a memoir made up of decades of footage shot... [More]
Directed By: Kirsten Johnson

#49

Casablanca (1942)
99%

#49
Adjusted Score: 114647%
Critics Consensus: An undisputed masterpiece and perhaps Hollywood's quintessential statement on love and romance, Casablanca has only improved with age, boasting career-defining performances from Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman.
Synopsis: Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart), who owns a nightclub in Casablanca, discovers his old flame Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman) is in town... [More]
Directed By: Michael Curtiz

#48

The Chambermaid (2018)
99%

#48
Adjusted Score: 101596%
Critics Consensus: The Chambermaid uses one woman's experiences to take audiences inside a life -- and a culture -- that's as bracingly unique as it is hauntingly relatable.
Synopsis: A young chambermaid working in one of the most luxurious hotels in Mexico City enrolls in the hotel's adult education... [More]
Directed By: Lila Avilés

#47

Chinatown (1974)
99%

#47
Adjusted Score: 105864%
Critics Consensus: As bruised and cynical as the decade that produced it, this noir classic benefits from Robert Towne's brilliant screenplay, director Roman Polanski's steady hand, and wonderful performances from Jack Nicholson and Faye Dunaway.
Synopsis: When Los Angeles private eye J.J. "Jake" Gittes (Jack Nicholson) is hired by Evelyn Mulwray to investigate her husband's activities,... [More]
Directed By: Roman Polanski

#46

Eighth Grade (2018)
99%

#46
Adjusted Score: 118496%
Critics Consensus: Eighth Grade takes a look at its titular time period that offers a rare and resounding ring of truth while heralding breakthroughs for writer-director Bo Burnham and captivating star Elsie Fisher.
Synopsis: Thirteen-year-old Kayla endures the tidal wave of contemporary suburban adolescence as she makes her way through the last week of... [More]
Directed By: Bo Burnham

#45
#45
Adjusted Score: 100149%
Critics Consensus: Brutally honest and utterly compelling, Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me offers a riveting, vanity-free portrait of its legendary subject while offering a few essential truths about the human condition.
Synopsis: Plagued by medical issues and memory lapses, the Broadway icon contemplates retirement and mortality as she approaches her 87th birthday... [More]
Starring:
Directed By: Chiemi Karasawa

#44

Faces Places (2017)
99%

#44
Adjusted Score: 108149%
Critics Consensus: Equal parts breezily charming and poignantly powerful, Faces Places is a unique cross-generational portrait of life in rural France from the great Agnès Varda.
Synopsis: Director Agnès Varda and photographer and muralist JR journey through rural France and form an unlikely friendship.... [More]
Starring: Agnès Varda, JR
Directed By: Agnès Varda, JR

#43

Finding Nemo (2003)
99%

#43
Adjusted Score: 108563%
Critics Consensus: Breathtakingly lovely and grounded by the stellar efforts of a well-chosen cast, Finding Nemo adds another beautifully crafted gem to Pixar's crown.
Synopsis: Marlin (Albert Brooks), a clown fish, is overly cautious with his son, Nemo (Alexander Gould), who has a foreshortened fin.... [More]
Directed By: Andrew Stanton

#42

For Sama (2019)
98%

#42
Adjusted Score: 104489%
Critics Consensus: As intimate as it is heartbreakingly resonant, For Sama powerfully distills the difficult choices faced by citizens of war-torn regions.
Synopsis: A young woman is followed through five years during the revolution in Aleppo, Syria - through love, marriage and motherhood.... [More]

#41

Gloria (2013)
99%

#41
Adjusted Score: 104062%
Critics Consensus: Marvelously directed by Sebastian Lelio and beautifully led by a powerful performance from Paulina Garcia, Gloria takes an honest, sweetly poignant look at a type of character that's all too often neglected in Hollywood.
Synopsis: An aging divorcee (Paulina García) embarks on an intense affair with a man (Sergio Hernández) she picked up at a... [More]
Directed By: Sebastián Lelio

#40

Goldfinger (1964)
99%

#40
Adjusted Score: 104451%
Critics Consensus: Goldfinger is where James Bond as we know him comes into focus - it features one of 007's most famous lines ("A martini. Shaken, not stirred.") and a wide range of gadgets that would become the series' trademark.
Synopsis: Special agent 007 (Sean Connery) comes face to face with one of the most notorious villains of all time, and... [More]
Directed By: Guy Hamilton

#39
#39
Adjusted Score: 105999%
Critics Consensus: Boasting dazzling animation, a script with surprising dramatic depth, and thrilling 3-D sequences, How to Train Your Dragon soars.
Synopsis: Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) is a Norse teenager from the island of Berk, where fighting dragons is a way of life.... [More]

#38
#38
Adjusted Score: 113488%
Critics Consensus: I Am Not Your Negro offers an incendiary snapshot of James Baldwin's crucial observations on American race relations -- and a sobering reminder of how far we've yet to go.
Synopsis: In 1979, James Baldwin wrote a letter to his literary agent describing his next project, "Remember This House." The book... [More]
Directed By: Raoul Peck

#37

The Interrupters (2011)
99%

#37
Adjusted Score: 101377%
Critics Consensus: Impeccably crafted and edited, The Interrupters is a tough and honest documentary about street violence that truly has the power to inspire change.
Synopsis: Members of the activist group CeaseFire work to curb violence in their Chicago neighborhoods by intervening in street fights and... [More]
Directed By: Steve James

#36
#36
Adjusted Score: 100387%
Critics Consensus: The Invisible War is a vital and frank expose on sexual assault in the U.S. military, shot by master filmmaker Kirby Dick (This Film is Not Yet Rated).
Synopsis: A filmmaker explores the ever-increasing incidents of violent sexual assault within the U.S. military.... [More]
Directed By: Kirby Dick

#35
#35
Adjusted Score: 101469%
Critics Consensus: Beautiful, thoughtful, and engrossing, Jiro Dreams of Sushi should prove satisfying even for filmgoers who don't care for the cuisine.
Synopsis: Revered sushi chef Jiro Ono strives for perfection in his work, while his eldest son, Yoshikazu, has trouble living up... [More]
Starring: Jiro Ono
Directed By: David Gelb

#34
#34
Adjusted Score: 104894%
Critics Consensus: A galvanizing glimpse behind the scenes of a pivotal election, Knock Down the House should prove engrossing for viewers of all political persuasions.
Synopsis: A young bartender in the Bronx, a coal miner's daughter in West Virginia, a grieving mother in Nevada, and a... [More]
Directed By: Rachel Lears

#33
#33
Adjusted Score: 110040%
Critics Consensus: Taut pacing, brilliantly dense writing and Oscar-worthy acting combine to produce a smart, popcorn-friendly thrill ride.
Synopsis: Three policemen, each with his own motives and obsessions, tackle the corruption surrounding an unsolved murder at a downtown Los... [More]
Directed By: Curtis Hanson

#32

Lady Bird (2017)
99%

#32
Adjusted Score: 128249%
Critics Consensus: Lady Bird delivers fresh insights about the turmoil of adolescence -- and reveals writer-director Greta Gerwig as a fully formed filmmaking talent.
Synopsis: A teenager (Saoirse Ronan) navigates a loving but turbulent relationship with her strong-willed mother (Laurie Metcalf) over the course of... [More]
Directed By: Greta Gerwig

#31

Le Havre (2011)
99%

#31
Adjusted Score: 101179%
Critics Consensus: Aki Kaurismäki's deadpan wit hits a graceful note with Le Havre, a comedy/drama that's sweet, sad, and uplifting in equal measure.
Synopsis: A shoeshiner tries to save a refugee.... [More]
Directed By: Aki Kaurismäki

#30

McQueen (2018)
99%

#30
Adjusted Score: 106096%
Critics Consensus: McQueen offers an intimate, well-sourced, and overall moving look at a young life and brilliant career that were tragically cut short.
Synopsis: Archival footage and interviews with friends and family offer insight into the extraordinary life and career of British fashion designer... [More]

#29

Miss Juneteenth (2020)
99%

#29
Adjusted Score: 108664%
Critics Consensus: Like a pageant winner walking across the stage, Miss Juneteenth follows a familiar path -- but does so with charm and grace.
Synopsis: A former beauty queen and single mom prepares her rebellious teenage daughter for the "Miss Juneteenth" pageant.... [More]

#28
#28
Adjusted Score: 101182%
Critics Consensus: Thrillingly unorthodox and emotionally searing without being didactic, The Missing Picture is a uniquely poignant documentary -- and so much more.
Synopsis: Filmmaker Rithy Panh re-creates atrocities of Cambodia's Khmer Rouge between 1975 and 1979.... [More]
Starring: Randal Douc
Directed By: Rithy Panh

#27

Moolaadé (2004)
99%

#27
Adjusted Score: 100059%
Critics Consensus: A vibrant, powerful, and poignant glimpse into the struggles of women in modern Africa.
Synopsis: For fear of enduring genital mutilation, a group of girls flee their own "purification" ceremony and take refuge with Collé... [More]
Directed By: Ousmane Sembene

#26
#26
Adjusted Score: 107767%
Critics Consensus: My Life as a Zucchini's silly title and adorable characters belie a sober story whose colorful visuals delight the senses even as it braves dark emotional depths.
Synopsis: A police officer (Nick Offerman) and some new friends help an orphan adjust to life at a foster home.... [More]
Directed By: Claude Barras

#25
Adjusted Score: 114592%
Critics Consensus: Powerfully acted and directed, Never Rarely Sometimes Always reaffirms writer-director Eliza Hittman as a filmmaker of uncommon sensitivity and grace.
Synopsis: Faced with an unintended pregnancy and a lack of local support, Autumn and her cousin, Skylar, travel across state lines... [More]
Directed By: Eliza Hittman

#24
#24
Adjusted Score: 108249%
Critics Consensus: Gripping, suspenseful, and visually iconic, this late-period Hitchcock classic laid the groundwork for countless action thrillers to follow.
Synopsis: This classic suspense film finds New York City ad executive Roger O. Thornhill (Cary Grant) pursued by ruthless spy Phillip... [More]
Directed By: Alfred Hitchcock

#23

On the Record (2020)
99%

#23
Adjusted Score: 102416%
Critics Consensus: On the Record uses harrowing first-person accounts to powerfully and persuasively confront the entrenched sexism of an industry and its culture.
Synopsis: Filmmakers Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering examine the sexual assault allegations against hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons.... [More]
Directed By: Kirby Dick, Amy Ziering

#22
#22
Adjusted Score: 110647%
Critics Consensus: With his electrifying performance in Elia Kazan's thought-provoking, expertly constructed melodrama, Marlon Brando redefined the possibilities of acting for film and helped permanently alter the cinematic landscape.
Synopsis: Dockworker Terry Malloy (Marlon Brando) had been an up-and-coming boxer until powerful local mob boss Johnny Friendly (Lee J. Cobb)... [More]
Directed By: Elia Kazan

#21

Paddington 2 (2017)
99%

#21
Adjusted Score: 113870%
Critics Consensus: Paddington 2 honors its star's rich legacy with a sweet-natured sequel whose adorable visuals are matched by a story perfectly balanced between heartwarming family fare and purely enjoyable all-ages adventure.
Synopsis: Settled in with the Brown family, Paddington the bear is a popular member of the community who spreads joy and... [More]
Directed By: Paul King

#20
Adjusted Score: 99788%
Critics Consensus: Andy Goldsworthy and his art are beautifully captured in this engaging documentary.
Synopsis: Andy Goldsworthy's art is supposed to fall apart. He creates large-scale outdoor sculptures and artworks out of natural materials like... [More]
Starring: Andy Goldsworthy
Directed By: Thomas Riedelsheimer

#19

Saint Frances (2019)
99%

#19
Adjusted Score: 105567%
Critics Consensus: Saint Frances approaches an array of weighty issues with empathy, humor, and grace -- and marks star and writer Kelly O'Sullivan as a tremendous talent to watch.
Synopsis: After an abortion, a deadbeat nanny finds friendship with the 6-year-old she's hired to watch.... [More]
Directed By: Alex Thompson

#18

Selma (2014)
99%

#18
Adjusted Score: 111027%
Critics Consensus: Fueled by a gripping performance from David Oyelowo, Selma draws inspiration and dramatic power from the life and death of Martin Luther King, Jr. -- but doesn't ignore how far we remain from the ideals his work embodied.
Synopsis: Although the Civil Rights Act of 1964 legally desegregated the South, discrimination was still rampant in certain areas, making it... [More]
Directed By: Ava DuVernay

#17

A Separation (2011)
99%

#17
Adjusted Score: 106421%
Critics Consensus: Morally complex, suspenseful, and consistently involving, A Separation captures the messiness of a dissolving relationship with keen insight and searing intensity.
Synopsis: When Nader (Payman Maadi), a bank employee, refuses to leave Tehran, his wife, Simin (Leila Hatami) sues for divorce in... [More]
Directed By: Asghar Farhadi

#16
#16
Adjusted Score: 105619%
Critics Consensus: Warm, funny, and brilliantly animated, Shaun the Sheep is yet another stop-motion jewel in Aardman's family-friendly crown.
Synopsis: All is well at Mossy Bottom Farm, except for the fact that the animals will do anything to get out... [More]

#15

Shoplifters (2018)
99%

#15
Adjusted Score: 112585%
Critics Consensus: Understated yet ultimately deeply affecting, Shoplifters adds another powerful chapter to director Hirokazu Koreeda's richly humanistic filmography.
Synopsis: On the margins of Tokyo, a dysfunctional band of outsiders is united by fierce loyalty and a penchant for petty... [More]
Directed By: Kore-Eda Hirokazu

#14

Song of the Sea (2014)
99%

#14
Adjusted Score: 101348%
Critics Consensus: Song of the Sea boasts narrative depth commensurate with its visual beauty, adding up to an animated saga overflowing with family-friendly riches.
Synopsis: An Irish youth (David Rawle) discovers that his mute sister is a selkie who must find her voice and free... [More]
Directed By: Tomm Moore

#13

Starred Up (2013)
99%

#13
Adjusted Score: 103238%
Critics Consensus: Smart, hard-hitting, and queasily realistic, Starred Up is an instant classic of U.K. prison cinema.
Synopsis: An explosive teenager runs into his equally violent father after being switched to an adult prison from a facility for... [More]
Directed By: David Mackenzie

#12

Sunset Blvd. (1950)
98%

#12
Adjusted Score: 109718%
Critics Consensus: Arguably the greatest movie about Hollywood, Billy Wilder's masterpiece Sunset Boulevard is a tremendously entertaining combination of noir, black comedy, and character study.
Synopsis: An aging silent film queen refuses to accept that her stardom has ended. She hires a young screenwriter to help... [More]
Directed By: Billy Wilder

#11

The Tale (2018)
99%

#11
Adjusted Score: 102140%
Critics Consensus: The Tale handles its extraordinarily challenging subject matter with sensitivity, grace, and the power of some standout performances led by a remarkable Laura Dern.
Synopsis: Jennifer has it all, with a loving boyfriend and a great career as a journalist and professor. But when her... [More]
Directed By: Jennifer Fox

#10
#10
Adjusted Score: 108023%
Critics Consensus: An impressive technical achievement with a walloping emotional impact, They Shall Not Grow Old pays brilliant cinematic tribute to the sacrifice of a generation.
Synopsis: Using state-of-the-art technology and materials from the BBC and Imperial War Museum, filmmaker Peter Jackson allows the story of World... [More]
Starring: Peter Jackson
Directed By: Peter Jackson

#9

Things to Come (2016)
99%

#9
Adjusted Score: 109620%
Critics Consensus: A union to cherish between a writer-director and star working at peak power, Things to Come offers quietly profound observations on life, love, and the irrevocable passage of time.
Synopsis: A passionate middle-aged philosophy professor (Isabelle Huppert) rethinks her already much-examined life after an unforeseen divorce.... [More]
Directed By: Mia Hansen-Løve

#8

The Third Man (1949)
99%

#8
Adjusted Score: 112107%
Critics Consensus: This atmospheric thriller is one of the undisputed masterpieces of cinema, and boasts iconic performances from Joseph Cotten and Orson Welles.
Synopsis: Set in postwar Vienna, Austria, "The Third Man" stars Joseph Cotten as Holly Martins, a writer of pulp Westerns, who... [More]
Directed By: Carol Reed

#7

Tower (2016)
99%

#7
Adjusted Score: 105852%
Critics Consensus: Tower probes into a painful chapter of American history with sensitivity and grace -- and revisits its events from a valuable new perspective.
Synopsis: On Aug. 1, 1966, a sniper rode the elevator to the top floor of the University of Texas Tower and... [More]
Directed By: Keith Maitland

#6

Truman (2015)
99%

#6
Adjusted Score: 102500%
Critics Consensus: Well-written, well-acted, and patiently crafted, Truman takes an affecting look at a long friendship separated by distance but undimmed by time.
Synopsis: Terminally ill actor Julián wants to spend his final days tying up loose ends. When childhood friend Tomás pays him... [More]
Directed By: Cesc Gay

#5
#5
Adjusted Score: 99654%
Critics Consensus: Samurai epic as a touching drama.
Synopsis: In 1860s Japan, samurai Seibei (Hiroyuki Sanada) lives in a rural village with his mother and daughters, where he is... [More]
Directed By: Yôji Yamada

#4
Adjusted Score: 104229%
Critics Consensus: Jacques Demy elevates the basic drama of everyday life into a soaring opera full of bittersweet passion and playful charm, featuring a timeless performance from Catherine Deneuve.
Synopsis: Geneviève (Catherine Deneuve), a beautiful young Frenchwoman who works at a small-town boutique selling umbrellas, falls for dashing mechanic Guy... [More]
Directed By: Jacques Demy

#3

Under the Shadow (2016)
99%

#3
Adjusted Score: 104302%
Critics Consensus: Under the Shadow deftly blends seemingly disparate genres to deliver an effective chiller with timely themes and thought-provoking social subtext.
Synopsis: After Shideh's building is hit by a missile during the Iran-Iraq War, a superstitious neighbor suggests that the missile was... [More]
Directed By: Babak Anvari

#2

Wadjda (2012)
99%

#2
Adjusted Score: 103734%
Critics Consensus: Transgressive in the best possible way, Wadjda presents a startlingly assured new voice from a corner of the globe where cinema has been all but silenced.
Synopsis: A rebellious Saudi girl (Waad Mohammed) enters a Koran recitation competition at her school and hopes to win enough money... [More]
Directed By: Haifaa Al-Mansour

#1

The Wailing (2016)
99%

#1
Adjusted Score: 102586%
Critics Consensus: The Wailing delivers an atmospheric, cleverly constructed mystery whose supernatural thrills more than justify its imposing length.
Synopsis: Suspicion leads to hysteria when rural villagers link a series of brutal murders to the arrival of a mysterious stranger... [More]
Directed By: Na Hong-jin

This week on home video, we’ve got an Oscar nominee, a surprisingly successful animated spinoff, a Biblical epic, and an ill-advised remake. Then we’ve got a few decent choices in the smaller releases, including Chris Rock’s Certified Fresh comedy and a couple of selections from the Criterion Collection. Read on for details:


Annie (2014) 28%

First it was a comic strip, then it was a musical, and then it was a film (twice), so it’s sort of understandable that the makers of 2014’s Annie — whose producers include such names as Will Smith and Jay-Z — would want to do things a little differently this time. Plus, they hired a few talented actors and the adorable star of Beasts of the Southern Wild to play the titular orphan. What could go wrong? A lot, according to the critics, who saddled the film with a 28 percent Tomatometer score for its reliance on clichés, syrupy sweetness, oddly staged musical numbers, and crass messaging. Quvenzhané Wallis is as charismatic as ever as the little girl who’s swept into the political machinations of wealthy mayoral candidate Benjamin Stacks (Jamie Foxx), who initially uses Annie for her PR value but ultimately falls for her charm. But essentially everything else about this production rubbed critics the wrong way, which renders this remake a missed opportunity.


Exodus: Gods and Kings (2014) 28%

Speaking of missed opportunities, who could have predicted a biblical epic directed by Ridley Scott and starring Christian Bale would have misfired as badly as Exodus: Gods and Kings did? Maybe people were burnt out on Old Testament stories by high profile directors, having already witnessed what Darren Aronofsky did with Noah back in March. Whatever the case, Scott’s retelling of Moses’ (Bale) journey was poorly received by both critics and audiences alike, earning a lukewarm box office total and earning a 28 percent score to match Annie‘s. Exodus has its moments, critics said, but the updated visual effects and few story embellishments (Moses as a sword-wielding general?) weren’t quite enough to erase memories of The Ten Commandments, and the newer film suffered from the comparison. For those who are interested, however, the Blu-ray release features a historical guide, a number of deleted or extended scenes, and few featurettes exclusive to the 3D release if you decide to go that route.


Song of the Sea (2014) 98%

Back in 2009, director Tomm Moore’s film The Secret of Kells earned an Oscar nod for Best Animated Feature, thanks to an enchanting mythological tale and its unique, hand-drawn art style. Earlier this year, he repeated the feat with Song of the Sea, which employed those same signature elements en route to an impressive Certified Fresh 98 percent on the Tomatometer and another Academy Award nomination. Song explores the Celtic myth of the selkie, a creature that takes the form of a seal underwater and that of a human on land, as told through the story of a young boy named Ben and his young sister Saoirse, who live in a lighthouse with their father. When Saoirse discovers a shell flute that plays a mystical tune, they learn a magical secret about their mother, who passed away years earlier. Song of the Sea is visually spectacular and rich in story, which makes it both an artful film and an excellent choice for family viewing.


Penguins of Madagascar (2014) 72%

DreamWorks Animation’s Madagascar franchise is one of the rare few that has gotten better with each installment, and it’s been so successful that a few of the side characters — The Penguins of Madagascar — got their own TV show on Nickelodeon. In 2014, those pesky penguins even got their own movie, and it turned out pretty good. Unrelated in plot to the TV series, Penguins of Madagascar follows Skipper, Kowalski, Rico and Private as they attempt to thwart the nefarious plans of Dr. Octavius Brine (John Malkovich), an octopus with an anti-penguin vendetta, after a dashing wolf (Benedict Cumberbatch) recruits them into his super-secret spy organization. Thanks to its vibrant colors, brisk pacing, and manic silliness, Penguins of Madagascar entertained most critics and earned a 72 percent on the Tomatometer. Its constant, frantic energy might be a bit too much for some adults to handle, but it’s harmless fun that will certainly keep the kids occupied for a while.


 

ALSO AVAILABLE THIS WEEK:

The Way He Looks (2014) (91 percent), a Brazilian coming-of-age story about the struggles of a blind teenager.
Top Five (2014) (88 percent), Chris Rock’s Certified Fresh comedy about a comedian (Rock) who reflects on his life as he’s being interviewed by a journalist (Rosario Dawson).
Son of a Gun (2014) (60 percent), starring Ewan McGregor and Brenton Thwaites in an Australian crime thriller about a petty criminal on the run with a notorious armed robber after the pair break out of jail.
Vice (2015) (0 percent), starring Bruce Willis and Thomas Jane in a futuristic thriller about a lifelike robot who becomes self-aware and escapes from a pleasure resort.
The Soft Skin (1964) (91 percent), François Truffaut’s 1964 drama about a married literary scholar who engages in an affair with a stewardess, gets a new Criterion Blu-ray this week.

Actor Chris Pine, Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs, and directors Alfonso Cuarón and J.J. Abrams announced today the nominations for all 24 Oscar categories at a live news conference at the Academy’s Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Beverly Hills. Read through for the full list of nominees.

BEST PICTURE

DIRECTING

ACTOR in a Leading Role

ACTRESS in a Leading Role

ACTOR in a Supporting Role

ACTRESS in a Supporting Role

FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM

ANIMATED FEATURE FILM

DOCUMENTARY FEATURE

CINEMATOGRAPHY

COSTUME DESIGN

FILM EDITING

MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING

MUSIC – Original Score

MUSIC – Original Song

  • “Everything Is Awesome”; Music and Lyric by Shawn Patterson from The Lego Movie
  • “Glory”; Music and Lyric by John Stephens and Lonnie Lynn from Selma
  • “Grateful”; Music and Lyric by Diane Warren from Beyond the Lights
  • “I’m Not Gonna Miss You”; Music and Lyric by Glen Campbell and Julian Raymond from Glen Campbell… I’ll Be Me
  • “Lost Stars”; Music and Lyric by Gregg Alexander and Danielle Brisebois from Begin Again

PRODUCTION DESIGN

  • Adam Stockhausen (Production Design); Anna Pinnock (Set Decoration) for The Grand Budapest Hotel
  • Maria Djurkovic (Production Design); Tatiana Macdonald (Set Decoration) for The Imitation Game
  • Nathan Crowley (Production Design); Gary Fettis (Set Decoration) for Interstellar
  • Dennis Gassner (Production Design); Anna Pinnock (Set Decoration) for Into the Woods
  • Suzie Davies (Production Design); Charlotte Watts (Set Decoration) for Mr. Turner

SOUND EDITING

SOUND MIXING

  • John Reitz, Gregg Rudloff and Walt Martin for American Sniper
  • Jon Taylor, Frank A. Montaño and Thomas Varga for Birdman
  • Gary A. Rizzo, Gregg Landaker and Mark Weingarten for Interstellar
  • Jon Taylor, Frank A. Montaño and David Lee for Unbroken
  • Craig Mann, Ben Wilkins and Thomas Curley for Whiplash

VISUAL EFFECTS

WRITING – Adapted Screenplay

WRITING – Original Screenplay

    • Written by Alejandro G. Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Jr. & Armando Bo for Birdman
    • Written by Richard Linklater for Boyhood
    • Written by E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman for Foxcatcher
    • Screenplay by Wes Anderson; Story by Wes Anderson & Hugo Guinness for The Grand Budapest Hotel
    • Written by Dan Gilroy
      for Nightcrawler

 

DOCUMENTARY SHORT SUBJECT

SHORT FILM – Animated

SHORT FILM – Live Action

This week at the movies, we’ve got Middle-earth warriors (The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, starring Martin Freeman and Ian McKellen), a world-travelling night watchman (Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb, starring Ben Stiller and Robin Williams), a streetwise orphan (Annie, starring Quvenzhane Wallis and Jamie Foxx), and a determined hiker (Wild, starring Reese Witherspoon and Laura Dern). What do the critics have to say?


The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

59%

It would be nearly impossible for director Peter Jackson to top — or even equal — the sweep and grandeur of the Lord of the Rings movies, and while the reviews for the first two Hobbit films were generally positive, many found something lacking. Critics say The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies brings this trilogy to a close in reasonably rousing fashion, but while the battle scenes are visually striking, the story is more than a little thin. After going up against the fire-breathing dragon Smaug, Bilbo (Martin Freeman), Gandalf (Ian McKellen), and makeshift battalions of men, elves, and dwarfs must join forces to fight off an onslaught of orcs and restore order to Middle-earth. The pundits say that Jackson’s visual sense is as strong as ever, but this conclusion to The Hobbit saga lacks the human touch and weightiness that made the Lord of the Rings films such revered classics. (Check out our Hobbit Headquarters for much more on The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, including features, interviews, and countdowns.)



Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb

47%

At this point, you pretty much know what you’re getting with a Night at the Museum movie: a few good laughs, a bunch of famous people playing historical figures, and little to offend — or stir — anyone in your family. Critics say that’s basically the deal with Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb, which offers up some decent slapstick and a few new faces but never quite coalesces into anything truly enchanting. This time out, Larry Daley (Ben Stiller) finally ventures outside the stuffy confines of those crazy museums; instead, he goes on a globe-trotting mission to preserve the magic that animates the museum’s historical populace. The pundits say Secret of the Tomb will probably please the kiddies, and Robin Williams shines in one of his last performances, but it’s largely a slack, so-so affair. (Take a look at this week’s Total Recall, in which we count down Stiller’s best-reviewed movies.)



Annie

28%

Annie is one of Broadway’s most durable and beloved productions, but it hasn’t fared nearly as well on the big screen. John Huston’s 1982 version drew decidedly mixed reviews, but critics say this update is even more of a misfire, a surprisingly tuneless, left-footed affair in which a number of big names deliver performances of wildly varying quality. Quvenzhané Wallis stars as the titular orphan, who lives with a mean foster mom until Will Stacks (Jamie Foxx), a businessman with political ambitions, takes her in. The pundits say that while Wallis is charming, the biggest problem is that this Annie is a musical starring talented people who, with a few exceptions, aren’t necessarily the best singers or dancers. (Watch our interviews with Wallis, Foxx, and co-stars Rose Byrne, Cameron Diaz, and Bobby Cannavale.)



Wild

88%

After winning strong reviews in limited release, Wild is going wide this weekend, and it’s already generating Oscar buzz for the strength of Reese Witherspoon’s lead performance. Based upon the bestselling memoir from Cheryl Strayed, Wild is the story of a woman reeling from the death of her mother and her recent divorce who decides to walk the entire Pacific Crest Trail by herself in an attempt to get back on track. The critics say this Certified Fresh drama is a thoughtful, emotionally potent character study with strong performances and beautiful natural locations.

What’s Hot on TV:


Homeland (Certified Fresh at 81 percent) wraps up its fourth season Sunday night, and critics say the show has had been smart, tense, and focused, making for the strongest iteration since its hard-hitting first season.


Thanks to some smart, creative storytelling and spectacular performances, The Affair (Certified Fresh at 94 percent), which has its season finale on Sunday night, is a somber, bewitching exploration of truth and desire.

Also opening this week in limited release:

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