Rank ’em: Time Travel Movies

In honor of the ridiculously good Looper (Kurt’s review) being released this weekend, let’s talk about some other films dealing with time travel.

What exactly is a time travel movie, you ask? Well, I don’t know. Use your judgement on this edition of Rank ’em. It’s always silly and difficult and heartbreaking trying to do the meaningless task of ranking movies anyway. As for me, I’d call a movie a time travel movie if time traveling played a significant role in the narrative.

So, yeah, with that said, let’s rank ’em (although let it be know, I’m purposely leaving out Looper until I can watch it a few more times).

8. Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure (Stephen Herek, 1989)
7. The Time Machine (George Pal, 1960)
6. Time After Time (Nicholas Meyer, 1979)
5. Primer (Shane Carruth, 2004)
4. Time Bandits (Terry Gilliam, 1981)
3. The Terminator (James Cameron, 1984)
2. Back to the Future (Robert Zemeckis, 1985)
1. Twelve Monkeys (Terry Gilliam, 1995)

What am I missing? What do you disagree with? What time travel movies do you despise?

Countdown to The Dark Knight Rises: Rank ’em [Christopher Nolan]

Everyone involved with the third row got together this week and looked back at Christopher Nolan’s career to coincide with the release of likely the biggest movie of 2012, The Dark Knight Rises. Throughout the week, we’ve had (and will have) some pretty in-depth and thoughtful pieces surrounding Nolan’s films and Batman in particular. Of course the most facile of these tasks was left to me: gather everyone’s ranking of Nolan’s seven films from favorite to least favorite and then aggregate/score them into one “definitive” list.

Christopher Nolan

It wasn’t even close. Pretty much all of us agree that Insomnia and Following are Nolan’s weakest two films whilst memento. and Inception are his two best films; though some extreme love can be found for The Prestige sprinkled throughout. Meanwhile his Batman movies come smack dab in the middle. I’ve never seen so many people come together on a director as exciting as Christopher Nolan and we all come down almost exactly the same way.

So here is the mathematical certainty that are Nolan’s films ranked from weakest to strongest (check the bottom of the post for our individual ranked lists):

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Rank ‘Em: Matthew McConaughey Performances

It may be the year of the girl, but it is also is potentially the the year of the shirtless Texan. Well, that is Matthew McConaughey who has a whopping slate of film with him either in starring or supporting roles: The well received but not well distributed Richard Linklater film Bernie, controversial Cannes title from director Lee Daniels, The Paperboy, Soderbergh male stripper drama, Magic Mike, William Friedkin’s over-the-top-noir Killer Joe and the sentimental slice of Americana from the director of Take Shelter and Shotgun Stories, Jeff Nicols’ Mud.

With his blondish locks and surfer-bod hiding some quite solid acting chops, Matthew McConaughey has had a strange career. Starting out as a post-high school douche-bag in Richard Linklater’s ensemble quasi-update of American Graffiti (by that yardstick, McConaughey was in the Harrison Ford role) and moving into micro-parts in stuff as far ranging as arthouse dramas (Lone Star) and goofball comedies (That Bill Murray Elephant flick, Larger Than Life) and even a Texas Chainsaw Massacre sequel with Rene Zellweger as well as significant supporting roles in populist crowd pleasers such as the John Grisham penned A Time To Kill, Stephen Spielberg’s Amistad and Robert Zemeckis’ Contact. Much like Alec Baldwin in the 1980s, Hollywood had a strong desire to turn his good looks into a conventional movie star, and went on to plug him into a string of at best forgettable, at worst, offensive, romantic comedies (The Wedding Planner, Failure To Launch, How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, Ghosts of Girlfriends Past, Fools Gold) with a variety of starlets who have since failed to live up to promising debuts (Jennifer Lopez, Kate Hudson, Jennifer Garner, and Kate Hudson…and did I mention, Kate Hudson?) Far more interesting, and almost as often, a director would use him to solid effect in a crazy character role, such as his crazy shaven-headed daredevil in the Disney Dragon film Reign of Fire, a witness to pure evil in Bill Paxton’s directorial debut Frailty or the most dedicated Hollywood agent on the planet in Tropic Thunder. But then there are middling misfires of Ron Howard’s The Truman Show doppelgänger , EdTV or colossal WTFs such as the legendary midget drama with Gary Oldman and Peter Dinkladge, Tiptoes (Seriously!).

Not quite hitting the career highs (or lows) of similar aging pretty boy Brad Pitt, and certainly finding a wider range of roles (and less tabloid trouble) than Owen Wilson, McConaughey has settled into a sort of Ace-In-The-Hole for various films, eschewing mega blockbusters after the massive failure to launch of a Dirk Pitt franchise with Sahara in favour of lower-key sleepers such as The Lincoln Lawyer. He is an actor I look forward to seeing in pretty much anything (barring those wretched Rom-Coms) these days, and he is due for a bit of a renaissance year for audiences savvy enough to find him in the multiplex or on the festival circuit.

My Top five is tucked under the seat.

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Rank ‘Em: Academy Award Best Picture Winners

I know Kurt promised last week we were done with all the Academy Award related stuff, but I was already working on this, which took me longer than I’d hoped to finish. But then, this is by far the most epic and most difficult Rank ‘Em I have ever attempted. Not only are there a great many more Best Picture winners than there usually are films in an individual director or actor’s filmography (on average; of course there are prolific exceptions), but they’re also extremely diverse. We’re not dealing with the specific themes, genres or stylistics that a single director or actor tends to work with, nor even the limited amount of time that usually constrains a director or actor’s output, but with 84 years of cinema history going back to the silent era. I didn’t even attempt to rank these in “best” order – this is not a ranked list of the objectively best films to ever take the Academy’s top prize, but instead a personally biased ranking of Best Picture winners according to my own preferences. In fact, while making the list, I wasn’t even thinking “which of these films deserved to win Best Picture the most,” but simply, “which of these films do I like the most.” Some things are going to be surprisingly high, others surprisingly low. Feel free to quarrel with my placements, and even with my memory – some of these films I saw long ago. But enjoy it for what it is – a largely arbitrary list honoring what is a largely arbitrary award.

I’ve split the post up into pages to mitigate load times a bit. Continue clicking through to get to my favorites. Also, there’s a handful of Best Picture winners I have not seen yet: All the King’s Men (1949), Marty (1955), Around the World in 80 Days (1956), A Man for All Seasons (1966), Rocky (1976), The Deer Hunter (1978), Ordinary People (1980), Terms of Endearment (1983), Platoon (1986), The Last Emperor (1987), Driving Miss Daisy (1989), and A Beautiful Mind (2001). So they won’t be included on the ranked list. The listings of my favorite films are just that, purely my favorites, with no thought as to whether they could’ve actually won the award or not (i.e., no American or prestige bias). The bolded nominee is the one of THOSE films I like the best; if none are bolded, I would’ve gone with the Academy choice – based on that set of nominees (or I haven’t seen enough of the other nominees to vote, which is the case with some of the earliest years).

“Did it deserve to win” legend:
Yes = the right film won the award this year
Sure = I might’ve liked another film this year better, but this is an excellent choice
Maybe = I won’t argue with it winning, either because it’s pretty solid or I like it personally
Not really = it’s not the worst choice, but it doesn’t really deserve it
No = a different film absolutely should’ve won this year

#72: Crash (2005)

If you know me at all, you’ll know the abiding hatred I have for Crash. In fact, a lengthy thread about this movie is even to blame for my presence at Row Three. What was initially just disappointment and dislike moved to hatred after the film gathered critical acclaim and eventually an Oscar win – in my opinion, the most egregiously misplaced Oscar win in the history of the Oscars, and not even because I was passionate about another film in the race. I’m not a particular Brokeback Mountain fan, either, as were most people who thought Crash should’ve lost. No, I just dislike this film that much. It’s well-made enough, I guess, but it’s so manipulative and heavy-handed in getting across a message that we all know, whether or not we necessarily put it into practice. Racism is still a problem, I realize this. Telling me racism is still a problem in the didactic and condescending way that this movie adopts is not effective. There, now that this one is out of the way, pretty much all the rest of the low-ranking films aren’t films I dislike, just ones that are unmemorable or unremarkable.

Did it deserve to win? No
Other nominees: Brokeback Mountain, Capote, Good Night and Good Luck, Munich
My favorite film that year: Brick

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Rank ’em: The Performances of Gary Oldman


Character actor, chameleon, often playing villains and grotesques (but the occasional hero as well), it is no coincidence that I chose the image from Ridley Scott’s detestable Silence of the Lambs sequel, Hannibal for the purposes of illustration of Mr. Gary Oldman. Here is an actor who has played Ludwig van Beethoven, Lee Harvey Oswald, Pontius Pilate and Sid Vicious in biopics, and in pure fiction, the gamut from Dracula to Drexl Spivey (the Pimp) to Jean-Baptiste Emanuel Zorg (Space Dictator), to Officer Stansfield (The cocaine snorting corrupt cop in The Professional) to Shelly Runyon (the ugliest Republican senator ever put on screen), Milton Glenn (evil warden of Alcatraz), Sirius Black (The Prisoner of Azkaban), Rosencrantz (or was is Guildenstern?) and Lt. Jim Gordon (in the most recent incarnation of Batman universe.) Of course there are many more performances, because Oldman never seems to stop working in either Hollywood, Indie, or foreign productions (underrated Spanish thriller: The Back Woods.) He even directed one of the more nihilistic dramas out there, Nil By Mouth. Of course, all of these performances add up to his recent highly nuanced, but very restrained performance of career spook, George Smiley, in Thomas Alfredson’s recent incarnation of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.

Put Smiley in a room with the The Driver, and you just know that Oldman likes his Gosling served cold and raw.

Personally, I’m partial to his performance in The Contender which is so lizard-like and vile it is the black cherry on the top of his career. But even in a few quite mediocre films (Lost in Space), outright terrible (Red Riding Hood) or even the truly WTF-how-did-this-get-made (Tiptoes), Oldman is interesting, even excellent amongst the detritus of bad cinema.

My top 5 is tucked under the seat.

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Rank ‘Em: John Carpenter’s Films

With Halloween nearly upon us, it seems appropriate to delve into the filmography of one of the most well-known and acclaimed directors of the genre. Carpenter is, without question, a master of suspense. His utilization of music in crafting an ominous atmosphere is essentially unparalleled, and his ability to engross and unnerve the viewer with subtlety and craft is nothing short of transcendent. Hyperbole aside, I am not quite sure that there is another American director that has enthralled me as well or as much as Carpenter.

In the interest of generating a great deal of discussion, I will provide a simple tiered list, from worst to best, to get the ball rolling. Without further ado…

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Rank ‘Em: Billy Wilder

Back when I was a mere baby film buff, Billy Wilder was probably one of the very first directors I learned to know by name and seek out his films (along with Alfred Hitchcock). I can’t really explain that, other than I just happened to introduce myself to Double Indemnity, The Lost Weekend, Sabrina, and more within a relatively short period of time when I was also becoming aware of “director” as a concept. In any case, I loved Wilder’s stuff because he could do massively entertaining and witty films in almost any genre – film noir, society comedy, romantic drama, social drama, biopic, absurd comedy, etc. Perhaps the only director of the time as versatile when it comes to genre was Howard Hawks. Meanwhile, Wilder and Preston Sturges were two of the pioneers of the writer-director paradigm, which was pretty rare in studio-era Hollywood. I just watched Billy Wilder’s A Foreign Affair for the first time last night, and that pretty much leaves Stalag 17 as the only major Wilder film I haven’t seen. I should probably wait to do this Rank ‘Em until I’ve seen that one, but whatever. I’m a rebel.

All of these are written and directed by Wilder, except ones that have denote screenplay only. It would be wrong not to mention Wilder’s two long-term writing partners, Charles Brackett, with whom he worked on nearly every film from 1938 to 1950, and I.A.L. Diamond, who cowrote Wilder’s screenplays from 1957 through most of the rest of his career. Brackett’s departure from the team led to a bit more caustic cynicism in Wilder’s writing (see Ace in the Hole), though it had always been present. I will admit that I saw several of these a long LONG time ago and I’m going on my gut memories of them rather than specifics, so feel free to write angry comments about how wrong I am. There are at least a few perhaps surprisingly low placements.

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Guy Maddin Blogathon: Rank ‘Em: Guy Maddin’s Films

[Part of The Maddin-est Blogathon in the World! Contest Head over to that link for more Maddin-ness.]

I remember the day I discovered Guy Maddin. I was filling a gap in my film festival schedule and The Saddest Music in the World happened to fit. What I didn’t bargain for was Maddin’s style. Here was a director, Canadian no less!, making a movie unlike anything I’d seen before. It looked old, it sounded old, it was melodramatic and every moment was enjoyable. In a sea of film that all looked alike, this was something new and refreshing. That was my first run in with Maddin but not the last.

Over the years I’ve seen a dozen or so films from Maddin’s long filmogaphy and though I’m sometimes happy to simply let them wash over me in a haze of grainy film and crackling music, there are a few that I have come to love. Enter my list of favourite Guy Maddin films.
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Rank ‘Em: Steven Soderbergh’s Films

My interest in Steven Soderbergh is strongly rooted in his general lack of commonality within his oeuvre. With the notable exception of the Ocean’s series, no two films share an overwhelming vibe that screams “Soderbergh,” despite his fondness for working with certain actors … and that strikes me as an unusually rare quality. Werner Herzog’s films are distinguished by the protagonist battling personal demons. The majority of David Lynch’s films are defined (or undefined) by the surreal. Clint Eastwood is a paradigm of simplicity. Terrance Malick aims to characterize nature. Great directors all, yet all with a clearly defined comfort zone.

To be fair, there is absolutely nothing wrong with a distinguishing characteristic. In fact, Herzog and Lynch are likely my favorite directors, and my least favorite of their works are those that stray too far from their respective wheelhouses. It is for this reason that I became intrigued with Soderbergh’s filmography – I have no natural biases created by a want for a specific theme or philosophy.

Without further ado:
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