Friday, August 21, 2015

Summer Movie Report Card 2015

“Mad Max: Fury Road” & “Inside Out”
Summer 2015 might very well be seen as the return of the classic summer blockbuster. Just like in 2008 when The Dark Knight and WALL-E blew audiences away as twin pinnacles of pop culture triumph, two movies this year have again changed the game in regard to action and animation. “Mad Max” ramped up the way action can be done, shaming every superhero movie in its path and creating a new language for the genre. “Inside Out” showed us that an animated film for kids could be visionary, trippy and audacious enough to inspire profound analytical essays. “Mad Max’s” nihilistic outlook on human nature and a nasty, in-your-face style, was very much George Miller’s personal triumph through and through. The amount of detail that he brought to every frame was obsessively meticulous, as was the editing by Margaret Sixel, which – as things now stand – deserves serious consideration for next year’s Film Editing Oscar. As the brainiest, trippiest movie Pixar has ever made, “Inside Out” is mandatory viewing for any psych student.
“Amy” & “The Look of Silence”
With respect to non-fiction films it’s impossible to choose between two drastically different documentaries. “Amy” is virtually the first of its kind, a tragic examination of the late singer’s life, composed entirely of footage shot by Amy and her friends and directed and assembled with immeasurable passion by Asif Kapadia. The late 27-year-old singer/songwriter was an unmatched talent but tormented by the most torturous inner demons imaginable. This compulsively watchable film exemplifies the next evolution in documentary, one in which each key milestone of a life is recorded with phone or camcorder by the subject herself, and then this wealth of first-hand material is shaped by a talented director into a touching portrait. Kapadia doesn’t show talking heads as they’re being interviewed; instead he lets us listen to the interviewee while Amy’s personal footage plays in counterpoint onscreen. Don’t be surprised if we get more of these kind of documentaries in the years to come, as we seem to be part of a generation that wants everything recorded and instantly mementoed.
“The Look of Silence” is Joshua Oppenheimer’s sequel to “The Act of Killing,” and he once again addresses the Indonesian genocide of the mid-1960s that killed millions. If the first film dealt with the perpetrators this one is about the victims, as a man who lost his brother in the killings tries to track down the perpetrators through research and in-your-face interviews. The truth isn’t easy and a final confrontation had me almost looking away, but the interviews are the highlights as they bring back a past that most of the perpetrators are in denial about. If there is a more important, contemplative, and meditative film about human nature this year, I sadly haven’t seen it. This isn’t an easy watch, but it’s an essential one. It represents one of the reasons I hope we all go to the movies — to face hard truths and cold facts that might otherwise be forgotten. Oppenheimer is quickly becoming a world-class filmmaker with these important films and the potential significance they bring to society is almost beyond words.
Paul Dano & Ian McKellen
Paul Dano embodies Brian Wilson so brilliantly in his performance that you may actually forget you are watching a movie. Giving us another memorable performance, his depiction of Wilson is that of a wide-eyed kid being slowly stripped of his innocence by obsessive artistic creativity. His absence is clearly felt whenever he’s not on screen, as is the freewheelin’ nature of the “Pet Sounds” recording sessions where the actor basically becomes Wilson: a man so possessed and infatuated with getting the perfect sound that it ultimately became the tool of his undoing.
Ian McKellen delivers an equally impressive performance as a 93-year-old Sherlock Holmes in “Mr. Holmes.” Although the film itself may strike some as slight and is mostly focused on one character, McKellen understands how to make these aspects work to his advantage, creating a portrayal which is nothing short of mesmerizing. With his natural wrinkles serving as craggy foundation for the extra decades added by make-up magicians, 76-year-old McKellen portrays a Holmes suffering from a failing memory and a case that still haunts him to this day. No offense to Benedict Cumberbatch, always great as our modernized Holmes, but McKellen seems to inhabit this iconic character as perfectly as it’s ever been seen onscreen. Many of us still say to this day that he was robbed of the Best Actor prize back in 1999, when he broke our hearts in Bill Condon’s unforgettable “Gods and Monsters,” losing to Roberto Benigni. With Mr. Holmes, McKellan is in an excellent position to grab his third nomination.
Charlize Theron, “Mad Max Fury Road”
Charlize Theron & Lily Tomlin
All hail, Charlize Theron as the baddest of badasses. Proving that her win for “Monster” was no fluke, the 40-year-old actress owned George Miller’s action extravaganza as Imperator Furiosa. Despite the franchise title, the Fury Road wasn’t about Max, it was about her, and even in the quieter moments, not many of them, she found a way to say so much with so little dialogue. Her face weary and worn, but her spirit undiminished, she is an Ellen Ripley for the 21st century, a role model that we want follow anywhere she takes us and of course the empress of all things awesome. The feminist subtext of the film might have turned off a few too many fanboys, but isn’t that another reason to love this performance?
If I say that 75-year-old Lily Tomlin has never been better than in this phenomenal movie by Paul Weitz (American Pie, About a Boy) would you be impressed? Well you should be, because Tomlin’s had a phenomenal career: “Nashville,” “The Late Show,” “9 to 5,” “All of Me,” and “Flirting With Disaster” have all had a little Tomlin-esque spiciness sprinkled at their core and all the better for it. What she does in “Grandma” is heartbreaking and nothing short of astounding. She brings the spiky, zesty nature she’s always been known for, but plays with our emotions until we reach a finale that seals the deal on the truly amazing quality of her work. I went into the movie not knowing much about it, so I’ll allow you the same benefit. But expect a torrent of awards love to come her way in the months to come. The film opens in theaters next Friday.
“Shaun of the Sheep” & “Mission: Impossible: Rogue Nation”
It’s almost not fair to ask another animated movie to contend with Pixar when the two are just a few months apart, but I will say that “Shaun of the Sheep” is well worth your time and features some of the best dialogue-free scenes in recent memory. In fact, the film has scarcely any dialogue at all. It relies on its visuals to entertain and does a a marvelous job at that. Some seriously Chaplin-esque stuff here, sure to please the kids, and some undeniably adult humor to be appreciated by grownups. The stop-motion animation is breathtakingly beautiful with layers of details in ever frame. I’d probably put this in an exclusive category of stop-motion classics such as “The Fantastic Mr. Fox,” “Chicken Run,” “Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit” and of course “The Nightmare Before Christmas.”
I’ll get this out of the way early: I honestly think Tom Cruise is a great actor. He’s passionate about the quality of his work and really works to bring the best product to his legions of fans. “Rogue Nation” has ridiculously good action sequences and exhilarating stunts performed by Cruise. Every detail is put together in such a professional, meticulously stylish way. This is the type of movie you go into expecting over-the-top action sequences, especially after seeing the great ones delivered in “Ghost Protocol,” and the movie definitely delivers by exceeding those expectations. The movie does not have the strong thematic undertones and production design of “Fury Road,” and — again — the plot is definitely the weak link, but it does have some of the best action sequences of the year. I wish more summer blockbusters had this much effort and artistry on display. The multiplex would be a much better place.
“The Gift”
The biggest surprise of the summer is, sadly, a movie that many people have not heard much about. With 108 reviews on RottenTomatoes “The Gift” has an outstanding RT rating of 93%. Its metascore on Metacritic stands at 79. So what happened between the critics and audience awareness? As with most mini-budget movies, the marketing was micro — but despite that unavoidable reality, it ranked #3 at the box-office when it premiered and since earned an impressive $28 million on a budget investment of $5 million. Directed by “Zero Dark Thirty” actor Joel Edgerton, “The Gift” is a tense, creepy psychological thriller that has so many twists and turns in its screenplay that you never know what’s coming next. Edgerton directed, produced, wrote and starred in a movie so inspired that it’s reminiscent of Hitchcock and “The Turn of the Screw.” Starring Jason Bateman and the vastly undervalued Rebecca Hall, “The Gift” is a razor-sharp dissection of marriage and friendship that reminds us how we can never escape our past secrets. Go in knowing as little as possible and come out knowing more than you were prepared to find out.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Dopest hip-hop movie "Straight Outta Compton"

Straight Outta Compton box office 10 Dope Movies About Hip Hop

Straight Outta Compton‘s success has stunned the industry as a whole. Its $60 million opening weekend defied all predictions and dethroned Mission: Impossible at the top of the box office. A wave of industry pros were left scratching their heads and rethinking what the winning formula of a summer blockbuster can be made of. Compton is 150 minutes long, has a mostly black cast and an R rating. Perhaps summer blockbusters can be more diverse than we previously thought?

Eazy-E, Dr.Dre and Ice Cube epitomized gangsta rap in the late ’80s as the West Coast gangsta rap group NWA. They brought it to the centerfold of the American conversation with songs such as “Gangsta Gangsta” and “Boyz-n-the-Hood”. In this summer’s surprise hit movie, Straight Outta Compton, their story is told with such in-your-face vigor and bravado that it almost feels like a gangsta rap companion piece to Goodfellas. Directed by F. Gary Gray, who directed some of Ice Cube’s most famous ‘90s music videos, the film recounts the day when the trio we’re the talk of the nation, eluding questions about police brutality and black poverty.

Eazy-E (Jason Mitchell) was the founder, Ice Cube (O’Shea Jackson Jr., Ice Cube’s son) was the lyricist and Dr. Dre (Corey Hawkins) had the sick beats that nobody could touch. They eventually all went their separate ways, but not without making a mark in music forever. The centerpiece of the film is a concert in Detroit where the group is threatened by Detroit Police not to play “F*** Tha Police” under threat of arrest. Guess what they do?

Stop-Motion Animation & "Shaun the Sheep"

With the release of the well-received "Shaun the Sheep" out in theaters right now, we figured it would be a good time to look back at the very best that stop-motion animation had to offer us over the years. This isn't a new technique by any stretch of the imagination. There have been many examples and stories of the claymation art being used almost a century ago, most notably in 1933's King Kong, which had animator Willis O'Brien creating the aforementioned monster-sized ape via the stop-motion animation art. Here are five movies that made unequivocally beautiful art out of it.

Chicken Run (2000)

Chickens run amok! What better way to start this list than with the 2000 gem starring Mel Gibson as the leader of a flock of feathered birds trying to get out of the horrid conditions at their farm. If time runs out they're going to be chicken pie, which is actually what the farmers make out of these chickens. Yikes. It's The Great Escape poultry style, with an added dash of British wit. How can you go wrong with that? Gibson works up his charm and stop-motion animation filmmaker extraordinaires Peter Lord and Nick Park seem to be having a blast creating visual miracles with the animation.

Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (2005)

At the time of this movie's release, Wallace and Gromit were well-known in the U.K. for their kooky antics on TV, but mainstream American audiences were first introduced to the duo via The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, a visually stunning and imaginative stop-motion Animation masterpiece. The tale of a cheery British man and his sly, silent, but surprisingly smart dog radiated the screen with enough genius and wit that it scored an Oscar nomination for Best Animated Feature. In this adventure, the duo accidentally create a Frankenstein-like rabbit that terrorizes the town. The visual miracles that spring forth are splendidly devised, all thanks to Nick Park and Steve Box.

Shaun the Sheep (2015)

Now in theaters is Shaun the Sheep, which features some of the best dialogue-free scenes in recent memory. The film has scarcely any spoken words, as it just relies on its visuals to entertain us, and does a marvelous job at that. Clearly influenced by Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton's physical screwball comedy, directors Richard Starzak and Mark Burton have fashioned a classic out of such a simple story. A complete freak accident sends a farmer tumbling down the road to a bigger city where he loses all memory of his life and accidentally becomes a famous hairdresser for the celebrities. It's up to his flock of sheep to get him back to the farm, but not without going through the most insanely crafted screwball adventures imaginable. Just like Wallace and Gromit, the cast of characters were well known in the U.K. prior to the film's release, but if audience reaction and the deluge of rave reviews is any indication, this won't be the last we hear of them.

The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)

When it comes to Christmas counter-programming on television during the holiday season, it's really hard to top Henry Selick's classic, The Nightmare Before Christmas. The story of Jack Skellington from Halloween Town who opens up a portal and discovers Christmas Town, a holiday which springs up new feelings and ideals in him, is an imaginative romp with the the most insanely designed characters imaginable. The musical numbers are inventive, especially the highlight "This is Halloween". Produced by Tim Burton, the film has the gothic, darkly humorous feel of a Burton production, right down to the spirit of the film, which is a sort of ode or love letter to dread, darkness, and holiday spirit. How much more Burton-esque can you get?

The Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009)

Wes Anderson had just finished making The Darjeeling Limited when he embarked on an ambitious adventure: adapting Roald Dahl's classic The Fantastic Mr. Fox into a feature film. The decision to make it using stop-motion animation turned out to be an inspiring one. George Clooney voices the titular Fox, a character so ingrained in helping his family survive that he decides to go on one last heist, this one involving the three biggest farmers around. The pièce de resistance is the Apple Cider farm which ends the film on an exuberantly high note and features a chase scene worthy of any one I've seen in movies. The soundtrack is impeccable, the screenplay is witty and fun, and the voice acting is tremendous with a who's who of actors: the aforementioned Clooney, Meryl Streep as Mrs. Fox, and Bill Murray as Clive Badger.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Top 10 movies destroyed by studio meddling

Alien 3 (1992)
After becoming a music video boy-genius David Fincher was a hot commodity for any major studio on Hollywood. His visual flair struck many as potentially game changing, but the project he decided to pick for his directorial debut has since become the only bad movie of his career. "Alien 3" had countless re-shoots and rewrites, most of which weren't Fincher's decision, even worse the creative differences Fincher faced with studio executives is now the stuff of legendary stories. It is then not very surprising that Fincher immediately disowned the film and has since released his own cut called "The Assembly Cut" which improved upon the original in terms of tying together plot holes amd character development, but still missed the spark that would ignite many of the eventual great movies he would eventually make in his career.
Blade Runner (1982)
Upon its release in 1982 "Blade Runner" had so much studio interference that its history is the stuff of legend. Receiving mixed reviews the film came and went upon release, but ended up receiving a cult following on home video - which got Scott amped up and screeing his own versions to audiences around the country for the next few years. There have been several versions of "Blade Runner", seven to be more specific, but the ultimate version will always be the "Final Cut" which got rid of the narration, left us with an extra final brilliant shot and fixed many of the plot holes present I'm the original.  It was the only time director Ridley Scott ever had total freedom in the editing room for the film and it would only come 25 years after its release.
Once Upon a Time in America (1984)
This might be the most butchered film by an American studio on the list. The original version ran for 229 minutes, an epic to say the least, and featured character development that got completely cut off and disjointed by the 139 minute American version. That's right, more than 1 hour and 30 minutes of footage gone. Some of the highlights of the original got completely cut off: A big chunk of the childhood scenes were not to be found, as was the famous garbage truck scene with Bailey which concludes the film on a more ambiguous, talked about note. Europeans got to see the final cut of Sergio Leone's classic, but Americans didn't. However,  time has been good to the film as most people now tend to seek the 4 hour version instead of the butchered 1984 version which is clearly and justifyingly hard to find.
Brazil (1986)
Terry Gilliam has never hidden the fact that he had problems with the studio while making 1985's "Brazil". His 142 minute cut, which Criterion released in beautiful pristine quality, is well known as a visionary sci-fi classic that paved the way and influenced a generation to come. Much of the problems had to do with the film's ending which Gilliam refused to change. The story goes that the fighting persisted throughout the year until Gilliam decided to screen his cut -in secrecy- for the L.A Film critics, which prompted them to name "Brazil" the Best Picture of 1985 and had audience and critics demanding its release. The studuo finally gave in and release the damn thing. The rest -ands they say- is history.
All The Pretty Horses (2000)
Billy Bob Thornton wanted to followup his directorial debut "Sling Blade" with an adaptation of "All the Pretty Horses", a Cromac McCarthy novel that many said was unfilmable. Thornton's original version ran nearly 4 hours, maybe the only way such a movie could have worked, but Harvey Weinstein quickly forced Thornton to cut it down to its eventual final cut of 116 minutes- Many say as payback for Thornton fighting and getting his version of "Sling Blade" released in 1996 despite Weinstein's disapproval.  That's more than half of "All The Pretty Horses" on the cutting room floor. Its star Matt Damon publicly came out and defended Thornton,  saying it wasn't fair that this much footage should be offed. Eventual efforts to get a director's cut on DVD have been tampered by the film's original music composer Daniel Lanois who refuses to have his score have anything to do with the movie. Yikes.
Heaven's Gate (1980)
The infamous movie that made United Artists declare bankruptcy. Michael Cimino was the hottest director in Hollywood, "The Deer Hunter" cleaned up the Oscars and Cimino was thought to have had carte blanche for his next movie. Then "Heaven's Gate" happened. A monstrous failure who's backstage stories are the stuff of legend and of which we won't be able to get fully into here, maybe another list? One of the stories goes that Cimino changed the locks of the editing room so that studio execs wouldn't interfere. His erratically insane behaviour concluded with a 5 hour and 25 minute cut of the film which Cimino said was a 15 minute cut away from the final version. Even though the film has garnered a cult following in recent years, the 2 hour and 29 minute cut that was finally released in the fall of 1980 garnered terrible reviews.
Hancock (2008)
The studio meddling done with "Hancock" was brutally significant. The first directors cut tackled the title character played by Will Smith as more of an anti-hero with questionable behavior and an overall unpleasant demeanor. The studio obviously didn't respond well to this cut, which quickly sent the film to the cutting room floor and tried to make the character more likeable.  The film went on to eventually make millions at the box office, but was it because of the new cut? Or just Will Smith's star power?  Way after its initial release details have come out about the studio pressure director John Lee Hancock had to face. All these stories only make us want a director's cut even more.
Fantastic Four (2015)
Much has been made about director Josh Trank's problems with Fox over this film. The story goes that Fox was unsatisfied with Trank's cut of the film and decided to completely take over and re-shoot key scenes- Trank was obviously unhappy and took to Twitter to voice his disapproval saying that "A year ago I had a fantastic version of this. And it would've received great reviews. You'll probably never see it. That's reality though." The film has been one of the worst reviewed Hollywood movies in recent memory, raising doubt over an already announced sequel and cementing it as movie that will forever live in infamy.
Magnificent Ambersens (1942)
Your name is Orson Welles, you're 27 years old and your first movie was "Citizen Kane". You would think that with your second movie the studio would give you carte blanche and all the freedom that you need to bring your vision onscreen. Not exactly. "The Magnificent Ambersons" is the granddaddy of all studio interfered movies. Cutting almost an hour of footage from the original cut? check. Changing the downer ending for a happier ending? check. A Bernard Herrmann score heavily edited by the studio? check. Welles was highly affected by the disastrous studio meddling of his beloved film, one which he believed could have truly marked his career. "They destroyed 'Ambersons,' and 'it' destroyed me." he later said.

Friday, August 14, 2015

10 Films That Should Be in the Criterion Collection

Since its inception in 1984, the scope and importance that The Criterion Collection has had on cinema is immeasurable: Letterboxing, audio commentary, special edition DVD and Blu-ray packages and painstakingly made film restorations are at the forefront of their revolutionary ideas. Funded by film buffs Robert Stein, Aleen Stein and Joe Medjuck, the Collection has the upmost care for cinema history and its preservation, and directors know that, which is why some of the biggest names in cinema have worked with the company to have their films properly released, from Coppola to Scorsese, Lynch to De Palma, just to name a few. Tough-to-impress director Terry Gilliam once said, "It's nice working with people for whom profit isn't the only reason for existence. They seem to be actually interested in film."
There are currently over 775 films in The Criterion Collection, but not every movie on cinephiles' wish lists will get the much prized Criterion treatment. For the time being, however, the following movies seem to be tailor-made for an eventual restoration and release, many of which have been long rumored to be next for the Collection but to no avail.

1. "Beau Travail" (1999)

How can it be that Clair Denis' "Beau Travail" is only sporadically in print and that you can't find it on any streaming service? It's no coincidence that this war movie bears many similarities to another female-directed dissection of male ego and testosterone: Kathryn Bigelow's "The Hurt Locker." This is an artsier film through and through, but no less remarkable; just the thought of its lingering final shot, which poses a turbulent, uncomfortable question, will give anybody – especially men – nightmares. Criterion has already released Denis' "White Material," an arguably lesser film compared to "Beau Travail," which has stood the test of time and now needs to be immortalized in proper fashion.

2. "Enter the Void" (2010)

Gaspar Noe's surreal nightmare was, once upon a time, rumored to get the full Criterion treatment; however, the story goes that "Enter the Void" was rejected by them and audiences ultimately ended up with a normal, token Blu-Ray/DVD release that could have been so much more. Noe's film is divisive, but it's garnered an immense cult following over the years, with many proclaiming it is ahead of its time. You can fault or insult the 51-year-old French filmmaker all you want, but he had the chutzpah to make a modern day "2001," full of intense visual treats and thought-provoking questions about life, death and the afterlife. 

3. "Bamboozled" (2000)

Most people have forgotten how groundbreaking, political and philosophical Spike Lee's work in the late 80's and early 90's really was. "Bamboozled" came out in 2000, when the director was about to enter a new, albeit confusing, phase of his filmmaking career. It would be the last explicitly political movie Lee would make about race in America. Starring Damon Wayans and Savion Glover, the film was pure Lee: Over the top, angry and ready to throw darts at its audience. Lee's film is as relevant as ever, dealing with an African American's frustration with a blindly racist country. All hell breaks loose when a black minstrel show becomes a primetime television hit. The film wasn't an easy watch, but it’s become a summary of Lee's strengths as a filmmaker, encapsulating a time when his anger translated into celluloid. A few years later he'd follow it up with the masterful "The 25th Hour," which couldn't have been more tonally or texturally different.

4. "Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans" (1927)

It is criminally unfair that one of the greatest movies of all-time did not get the proper DVD treatment. The images in "Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans" simmer into your head and stay there for years on end. F. W. Murnau's visual poetry was second to none, and "Sunrise" has always been the runaway winner for greatest silent movie ever made. Its DVD and Blu-ray releases until now have been mostly pitiful, bland and uncared for. What gives? It's mind-boggling that there are self-proclaimed "cinephiles" out there who have never seen this movie, and its DVD treatment is to blame.

5. "Freaks" (1932)

Tod Browning's visceral, pre-code horror film still shocks audiences today, so imagine what it must have been like to watch his masterful freak show 83 years ago, when audiences were much more sensitive to grotesque imagery. Then again, the original version was considered too shocking to even be released and basically ruined Browning's career. Based upon his own experiences as a runaway teenager with a travelling circus, Browning was one of the first mavericks to push the envelope to the very extreme. "One of us, one of us" is a chant that evokes the spirit the filmmaker was going for; he was trying to get the audience to understand his circus performers, when in fact the despicable people in the movie were the "normal" circus performers. The DVD release has a decent amount of extra footage, but this movie is the stuff that Criterion dreams are made of.

6. Any David Lynch Film

So far we have had "Eraserhead" and "Mulholland Drive" on Criterion, but where is the rest of the Lynch canon? The director's DVDs have always been scant on extra material, as he's always been a "the movie speaks for itself" kind of guy. Of course, the two films that have been released via Criterion have given Lynch-heads some hope that more is to come. "Blue Velvet" is the next great film, but its DVD treatment has actually been pretty decent, with over 51 minutes of deleted footage. Instead, the Collection could opt for "The Elephant Man," "Lost Highway" or "Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me." Of course -- like with any Lynch film -- we don't want the mysteries explained to us; we would just love to have decent Lynch releases to add to our collections to replace the single-disc copies of these films.

7. "Blow-Up" (1966)

Will Michelangelo Antonioni's "Blow-Up" ever get properly released? Has Warner Bros. forgotten that they own the rights to this incredible film? There are some used copies of the film on Amazon for $50, but the film transfer is terribly primitive and the extras are nowhere to be found. A re-release is rumored to be in the works, but isn't a film like this one meant for a more in-depth treatment? Just recently, Criterion released Brian De Palma's homage to Antonioni's film, "Blow Out," a great movie that stands along the best 1980's cinema had to offer. You'd think it would only be a matter of time before we finally got what we wanted, but not so much. There is absolutely no indication this will be coming out in the near future via Criterion.

8. "Atlantic City" (1981)

In an American Film magazine critics poll of the best movies of the 1980's, Louis Malle's "Atlantic City" was named the fifth best movie of the decade. The film is criminally underrated and one of the great achievements of American cinema, and yet time has not been kind to Malle's film, but for all the wrong reasons. It is not a showy, bombastic picture, but instead quiet and cerebral in its approach to organized crime on the boardwalks of Jersey. The way this movie has been released is a crime, whether it'd be on VHS, DVD or Blu-Ray – the film is almost ghostly in its absence and availability. The film transfer is underwhelming and the extras are pitiful, that is, if you can find a copy. What exactly happened to Malle's landmark movie? Criterion has released 17 of his movies, and it's time for his best movie to be the 18th. 

9. "All About My Mother" (1999) 

10. "Talk To Her" (2001)

It has always been a toss-up as to what is the best Pedro Almodóvar movie: "Talk to Her" or "All About My Mother." Why can't Criterion just release them all? We'll be first in line to buy the 30-disc package of every Almodóvar movie out there, and even if we can probably pass on "I'm So Excited," we'll still take that one as well. The man is a genius, and his movies haven't had much luck when it comes to DVD/Blu-ray releases stateside. A proper release is almost inevitable, but we just hope we won't be waiting another decade for it.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Leo DiCaprio's best

With the release of “The Revenant” just a few months away we caught a sneak peek of its trailer last week and, suffice to say, we were thrilled to see the potential on display. The impact this movie could have on awards season is HUGE and we couldn’t be more psyched to get a look at this bad boy in the near future. The biggest question headed towards the film’s release is whether or not this could finally be Leo’s big moment to win the golden statuette, a statuette that’s eluded him since his first nomination more than 22 years ago. Of course, awards don’t mean much in the grand scheme of things, if one were to make a list of cinematic greats that have failed to ever get the award it would be an endless, horribly frustrating list to look at.
DiCaprio’s been nominated four times in his career. Never has he really had a shot with any of those nominations. Most people would just shun him off by saying the nomination was enough, but was it? Along with Joaquin Phoenix we are seeing the emergence of an iconic American actor, one who never plays it safe and always goes for the risky, adventurous fare. Just take a look at the list of filmmakers this 41-year-old actor has worked with: Scorsese, Spielberg, Inarritu, Nolan, Tarantino, Allen, Cameron, Eastwood, Scott, Mendes. A who’s who of great directors. He sure knows how to pick ‘em and yet I get the feeling he’s only getting started and is going to keep pushing the boundaries further in the years to come. Here are ten times DiCaprio proved he was one of the very best actors of his generation.
1) Jordan Belfort, “The Wolf Of Wall Street”
This was the best shot our boy’s had thus far — key words being “thus far”. The sky’s the limit for DiCaprio, and in Scorsese’s now classic epic of debauchery, he brought a whole new range to his repertoire. With some scenes veering towards slapstick comedy, Leo’s portrayal of a Wall Street madman could have quite easily tipped over the top towards caricature, but I don’t think anyone could have pulled it off better than he did. It was a very divisive movie upon its release, but has gained notoriety over the last few years and will continue to do so as a classic. It is the riskiest performance DiCaprio has given us and quite possibly the beginning of an artistic freedom that will have him venture into even more unknown territory, like, for example, Inarritu’s “The Revenant”.
Nominated? Yes.
Who won? Matthew Mcconaughey, “Dallas Buyers Club”
2) Howard Hughes, “The Aviator”
Martin Scorsese’s movie is the best ever made about OCD. A mental disease that hasn’t really been understood or treated in the best of ways in pop culture. DiCaprio beautifully captured Howard Hughes’ inner and outer demons in a lavish but personal movie. There are some moments with the tiniest of details that it’s very easy to miss them. Hughes was a neurotic, eccentric billionaire who, as his obsessive compulsion grew, isolated himself entirely from society. This could have been the one to win it all for the then 30-year-old actor. A big budget Hollywood epic, that dealt with an industry legend. Every note was perfect in the performance, capturing the quirks and eccentricities that come with having the mental disorder.
Nominated? Yes.
Who won? Jamie Foxx, “Ray”. DiCaprio won the Golden Globe.
3) Arnie Grape, “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?”
Tropic Thunder’s Kirk Lazarus said you should never go “full retard.” Crude phrasing aside, DiCaprio clearly didn’t get the memo. It’s in Lasse Hallstrom’s touching film that I first noticed a then 19-year-old actor stealing scenes from Johnny Depp. Playing a character with a developmental disability is not the easiest task to tackle for a young actor, let alone a veteran actor. I didn’t know DiCaprio back then and actually believed that a mentally challenged actor was playing Arnie Grape — that’s how great this performance was. Not many people knew who DiCaprio was, but after watching this movie you sure as hell weren’t going to make that same mistake again. Here was a performance that captured all the details, big and small, and made them feel so real.
Nominated? Yes.
Who won? Tommy Lee Jones, “The Fugitive”
4) Billy Costigan, “The Departed”
When you’re in the same movie as an over-the-top but equally brilliant Jack Nicholson, or have to share screen time with a swear-a-minute ticking time bomb cop played by Mark Whalberg, good luck getting the recognition you deserve. That’s what happened here. DiCaprio’s was the most subtle of performances: a calm, cool and collected guy having to deal with the anarchy unfolding in a society about to breakdown and trapped in unique circumstances where he can’t tell the good guys from the bad guys. Scorsese’s best movie since “Casino” or even “Goodfellas” had DiCaprio in his most emotionally and physically complex role carrying the movie through its twists and turns.
Nominated? No. At least the Globes nominated him.
Who won? Forest Whitaker, “The Last King of Scotland”
5) Jack Dawson, “Titanic”
Can any true movie fan really deny the fact that DiCaprio got robbed of a nomination for this movie? Kate Winslet and Gloria Stuart got nominated. It was in fact DiCaprio who carried the movie on his then lanky shoulders, giving it soul and putting a heartbeat to the corny dialogue James Cameron is so well known to write for his films. This is also the movie that many people claim will be the reason why DiCaprio will never win the big award. Leo-Mania was huge. He was a heartthrob who stole millions of hearts, but so what? Ironically enough Jack Nicholson won that same year for playing an OCD-ridden Grinch in “As Good As It Gets”. But if you want a truer depiction of OCD go check out “The Aviator”.
Nominated? No. At least the Globes Nominated him.
Who won? Jack Nicholson, “As Good As it Gets”
6) Calvin Candie, “Django Unchained”
Christoph Waltz won the big prize for “Django”, and he was great, but you know who was equally great? Dicaprio as Calvin Candie: A looney, absurd, frightening performance this otherwise mess of a movie needed. Yes, the performance was over the top, but that’s the kind of thing that was required to get to the eccentric tone of the character just right. A professional connoisseur of the Mandingo game, Candie might just be the most despicable person in the entire movie, a bigoted fool who has enough money to build his own nightmarish empire-esque version of Neverland, this one aptly titled “Candieland”. Not even a nomination for this brilliant portrayal of absurd proportions. At least the Globes nominated Leo alongside Waltz.
Nominated? No.
Who Won? Christoph Waltz, “Django Unchained”.
7) Teddy Daniels, “Shutter island”
Here’s a film that got no Awards love whatsoever. Relegated to a February release back in 2010, Martin Scorsese’s expertly tense horror movie has, rightfully so, had its reputation grow in stature over the last few years. Every decade there are films that were ill-received upon their release and then get reassessed later on and are proclaimed great movies. The scantily underwhelming 68% RT score and 63 on Metacritic that “Shutter Island” got are quite shocking considering that its IMDB rating now is at 8.1 with almost 700,000 votes. “Shutter Island” can now be considered one of the very best releases of 2010, with DiCaprio giving an exquisitely layered but brutally honest performance as Teddy Daniels, a man trying to relocate himself and his disturbed past. No Awards love but, something better, a reputation that far exceeds any awards, that of a classic.
Nominated? No.
Who Won? Colin Firth, “The King’s Speech”.
8) Frank Abagnale Jr, “Catch Me If You Can”
What a playful, enjoyably persistent performance by DiCaprio. Steven Spielberg took Leo’s charisma and infectious personality and used it to move his film into such cheery, infectious territory. This was only five years after “Titanic”. DiCaprio had just come out of relative failures such as “The Man in the Iron Mask”, “Celebrity”, and “The Beach”. With all three movies he was trying to destroy his public image as the pretty boy next door. What he didn’t realize was that he could use his aforementioned image and charisma to give us this great performance. Abagnale Jr’s escapades are so absurd yet they all actually happened. The real life Frank had such a great personality that he got away with almost every bad deed he did. DiCaprio shone because he did just that; he used his attractiveness to mold a character that we cheered for, even as he was breaking the law and making the FBI look like idiots. What is there not to like? Looking back on this performance we can see just how tough a performance like this can be, yet DiCaprio made it look effortless.
Nominated? No.
Who Won? Adrien Brody, “The Pianist”.
9) Danny Archer, “Blood Diamond”
This performance he actually got nominated for. In this case, nomination was probably enough. Justified in fact, but nothing more, nothing less. “Blood Diamond” has a classical narrative that wholly suited this kind of performance. It’s sorta like when Marlon Brando got nominated for “Viva Zapata!” — great acting, but you knew there was so much this actor could do if it were a better screenplay. The role of Danny Archer wasn’t really written with any real subtleties or foreshadowed characterizations, but he was played by DiCaprio with such movie star vigor that it ended up getting him a nomination. That’s no small feat. The film has been reasonably better received over the years, with an 8.0 rating on IMDB, and it’s one of the last movies where the highly talented Jennifer Connelly would get a decent script to work with. Sad.
Nominated? Yes.
Who Won? Forest Whitaker, “The Last King of Scotland”.
10) Cobb, “Inception”

Cobb has to be included. Of course this was “The Christopher Nolan Show,” but without Leo’s central performance it wouldn’t have been as good. Nolan’s words can sometimes be very cold and distant, but Leo brought real humanity to the screenplay and a beating heart to his character that another actor might not otherwise have achieved. No small feat. In fact, imagine “Inception” without DiCaprio … you can’t. I view Nolan — exception to the rule being “The Dark Knight” and Heath Ledger’s cuckoo brilliant performance — like the puppeteer of the whole enterprise, just having his way with the actors as they basically recite the words he’s written down for them. He’s like the hypnotist just manipulating his actors into doing whatever the hell he wants them to do, without giving them any room or freedom. This is not necessarily a bad thing considering some of the great movies he’s given us, but this makes DiCaprio’s performance all the more accomplished, since he was able to give us a pretty great performance out of the restrictions at hand.
Nominated? No.
Who Won? Colin Firth, “The King’s Speech”.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

@JFLMTL: The Big Lebowski

Michael Fassbender as The Dude? Patton Oswalt as Walter? Jennifer Lawrence as Maude? Mae Whitman as Donny? Dennis freakin Quaid as the real Lebowski? Mike Judge as Sam Sheppard's deep voiced, wise - ish narrator? It shouldn't work, right?  On a humid Friday night in Montreal, a live reading with the aforementioned culprits happened and it DID work, gloriously in fact. All part of the 33rd edition of the Just For Laughs festival.

The Coen Brothers classic is a peculiar  film, one greeted with mixed to divisive reviews upon its release, yet gaining a rich cult following over the years and comedy classic status - a fate I sure hope their much maligned but underrated "Burn After Reading" will one day get. The live reading this past Friday night was greeted with buzz - tickets sold out quickly once Lawrence was announced, and the show was  moved to a bigger theatre. But if there was any reason why these now iconic live readings created by Jason Reitmam were created, it was to read a Coen Brothers script.  Those kooky brothers have a flair to their dialogue that is second to none and is brought to life on a stage setting.

Patton Oswalt brought a whole new layer to John Goodman's deranged, Shabbos-observing vet, and every time he spoke the crowd went nuts. He brought out the iconic, anger-driven performance of the original character. At every "shut the fuck up Donny", the crowd couldn't hold still, hollering and cheering the legendary line.

Perhaps the highlight of the night was the fact that Michael Fassbender was actually smoking joints rolled up by Jennifer Lawrence on stage. One joint after another was lit up as Fassbender brought out a whole new meaning to the term "method actor". Lawrence, a self proclaimed "Lebowski fan", seemed to be happy to just be there. Her Maude had a scant amount of dialogue and she seemed to struggle with some of more high brow Maude words, such as satyriasis, but just hearing her struggle to utter the word "Vaginal" was worth the over 2 hour wait to get into the 700 capacity Olympia theatre.

Perhaps the biggest surprise of the night was the, as of then unannounced, actor who would play the wheelchair bound Lebowski. None other than Dennis Quaid was introduced as the audience went batshit crazy when 61 year-old actor made his way onstage. Quaid not getting nominated for "Far From Heaven" is one of the biggest crimes in recent Oscar history.

Mike Judge, the creator of "Silicon Valley", did a great job emphasizing the deep montone voice of the narrator of the film. The man behind "Office Space", another cult classic in the same vein as Lebowski, used his skills of impersonation and sounded exactly like Sam Shepard. The rest of the cast was filled up by actors from HBO's brilliant TV series "Sillicon Valley". In fact, the day after the live reading I attended a Q and A with the entire cast of that show, which only made me appreciate the actors and writing even more.

Mae Whitman also shone. A female  playing Donny was a risky endeavour, but the "Parenthood" actress made it work so well.  The loose, liberal, almost European-esque atmosphere the city of Montreal brings was clearly felt by the actors, who were so high and inspired on stage that you almost forgot about the original incarnators of the film. Drinks and joints kept flooding the stage as the actors tried to get the loose vibe of the Coen film right.

The Coen dialogue has aged well, and so has the inspired lunacy that drives the film. We didn't need Fassbender, Lawrence,  Quaid and Co to remind us of that, but the night I and 700 others witnessed on Friday night was mighty in abidance to The Dude. The lineup outside was a what's what of Dude-ism: smoking joints, reciting famous lines, and even bringing bowling balls on a Shabbos night of all nights. 17 years after its release, it felt like the Coens created a monster.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

2015 mid year recap

After 6 months of moviegoing in 2015, one thing has become very clear: Female driven cinema is here to stay. If you look at my list of the best of the year so far you will find that most of the movies that were worth seeking out had a female lead or a female driven psyche infused to their DNA. It’s a breath of fresh air that makes me think that Hollywood has finally realized the importance of the female voice. Of course, there’s still a lot of work to do, but how refreshing it is to bypass the testosterone fueled barrage of superhero sequels and uncover an endless amount of counter-programming that relies on feminist ideals and themes instead of the usual one-dimensional bollocks we’re so used to.
In “Mad Max: Fury Road”, George Miller set the stage for a towering performance by Charlize Theron as a relentless seeker of freedom and justice. At this point in time she more than deserves an Oscar nomination by not only giving one of the best performances by a female this year, but one of the best performances by anybody this year period. It eclipses her towering work in “Monster” by being less showy but more powerfully subtle. It is the crowning achievement of Theron’s career.
Who can forget the gorgeous dissection of young Riley’s feelings in Pixar’s masterful and imagination-filled “Inside Out” — a film that stands alongside “WALL-E”, “Up” and “Toy Story 3″ atop the mighty Pixar shrine. The animation company has never made a brainier, trippier movie than this, nor have they ever concentrated the bulk of a movie into investigating the raw feelings of a teenage girl in her everyday life. She’s the anti-Disney princess and all the better for it.
The horror genre was rejuvenated last year with “The Babadook” -– a smart, snappy, and darkly twisted tale that dealt with death, mourning and the matriarchal role. “It Follows” continued that trend in a film that will probably make my top ten list at the end of the year. What a treat it was to watch “It Follows”, a darkly brilliant horror movie starring the indelibly talented Maika Monroe as a girl who gets cursed by a selfish young man and has to deal with the consequences throughout the film’s tightly-knit 107 minutes. Maika more than handles her own and then some.
How about the triumphant, intense fireworks that Juliette Binoche and Kristen Stewart create in “Clouds of Sils Maria”? Stewart’s mature performance will quiet all the haters once she gets a well-deserved nomination come next spring. I stumbled upon a list from a reputed website of the worst actresses in Hollywood and Stewart was in the top three! The kind of research that goes into having such blasphemous idiocy in a top ten list could make for a great topic in a separate writeup. Stewart is proving herself to be quite the actress: Her Cesar-winning performance in “Clouds of Sils Maria” isn’t the only time she exuded greatness. Check her out in “Adventureland”, “Into the Wild” and “Still Alice” just to name a few, you’ll see what I mean.
Want more? “Ex-Machina” gave us the iconic Ava, a beautiful and seductive android handmade by a man to fit and comfort his sick needs, that is until … just watch the movie, a brilliant movie, that goes past its themes of the dangers of artificial intelligence and locates the heart and soul of a female android who wants to stop being controlled by the men around her. Alex Garland’s “Ex-Machina” is a movie that works on so many levels, it’s like the beginning of something new. Its agenda just feels so clear and concise: it’s the prophetic announcement of a charge that’s coming at us full throttle without warning, the tossing over of a cinematic voice and the birth of a new one.
1) Mad Max: Fury Road
2) Inside Out
3) Ex-Machina
4) It Follows
5) Clouds of Sils Maria
6) The Tribe
7) Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
8) Predestination
9) Amy
10) While We’re Young
It doesn’t just stop at mid-year -– watch out for Amy Schumer’s hilariously relevant “Trainwreck” to continue the trend this summer, Meryl Streep teaming up with her daughter Mamie Gummer for Jonathan Demme’s “Ricki and the Flash”, Lily Tomlin giving an award-worthy, career-best performance in “Grandma”, and Noah Baumbach continuing his “Frances Ha” dissection of the 21st century young female in “Mistress America”, starring Greta Gerwig. Good times ahead.
There you go, I have to admit that going past 10 films would be stretching it, but this is a solid bunch of films that definitely deserve your attention. It’s time for you guys to share your mid-year movie experiences. I look forward to reading them.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Pixar's films ranked

Pixar hasn’t just reinvented animation for the 21st century, they’ve expanded it forward to a space and time where the adult/child line is blurred and the creativity on display is astonishingly rendered. You forget you’re watching a film primarily aimed for kids. You feel like a child again, full of innocence, full of joy, discovering a new world that previously seemed so out of reach. Over the past 20 years, Pixar has given us so much more than 15 timeless movies; they’ve brought us the ability to succumb to a universe full of magic and stories that hit the truest notes possible. It’s hard to imagine a cinematic landscape without Pixar, and the significance they represent cannot be underestimated. Their effect on regular, live-action movies is self-evident. They’ve pushed boundaries and forced other filmmakers to think beyond the box. Here’s to another 20 great years.
1) WALL-E (2008)
Any Pixar list must begin and end with this masterpiece. The first half hour of WALL-E has scarcely any dialogue and plays like a silent Chaplin movie -– that is if he had ever decided to make a post-apocalyptic movie about a lonely garbage-chewing bot who falls in love with an A.I. named Eve. The second half is more conventional but nevertheless visionary. The future that director Andrew Stanton concocts is that of a torn up world, ravaged by an environmental crisis, where the planet’s citizens have been evacuated to live aboard a space cruiser, with only one last possible chance to rebuild.
2) Up (2009)
I don’t know many people who can come out of this film’s first 10 minutes with a dry eye. In 10 hopelessly romantic and surreal minutes, Pixar gave us the quintessential anatomy of life, love, and death in a simple but heartbreaking montage that might just be the crowning achievement of the studio.  Although the rest of the film can’t reach the peak of that montage (and really, which can?), the rest of the film is incredibly great and visually vivid, bursting out with colors. It’s an allegorical film about aging without regret but with dignity.
3) Inside Out (2015)
“Inside Out” opens this week with a flurry of rave reviews and a brilliant marketing campaign that will have you in stitches, but is the movie any good? Yes. It’s damn good. In fact, this is the brainiest, most trippy movie Pixar has made so far. Coming out of the theater, a buddy of mine, who is coincidentally a psychologist, told me the movie should be mandatory viewing for all psych students. How does Pixar come up with such ambitiously ingenious ideas? I’m guessing this is the movie most have not yet seen from my list, so I won’t say much, but just let your brain have a little workout with this golden nugget of a movie.
4) The Incredibles (2004)
While we get relentlessly pummeled by countless superhero movies every single year, it is a breath of fresh air to see the genre work so triumphantly well. Brad Bird has proven his worth in the past, most notably with the criminally underrated animated movie “The Iron Giant”. Bird gives us another visual treat by tackling the superhero genre and coming out with a classic that can stand alongside “The Dark Knight” and “Spider-Man 2″. The action scenes are breathtakingly staged, with Bird’s incredible eye for detail and pacing coming in handy. Unlike many superhero movies, this is one of the rare cases where a sequel would be welcome and well-deserved.
5) Toy Story 3 (2010)
What more can be said about “Toy Story 3″? It was supposed to be the last hurrah. A sequel was just announced recently, but it will be very hard to top this achievement.  Tackling adult themes, the movie was the darkest, most vicious of the series, with a villain who could scare you more than any live-action baddie. The stakes were dead real, tackling the loss of innocence and the promotion – or is that a demotion? – to adulthood. Near the end of the movie’s wrenching climax, as our heroes are about to get cooked alive in an oven, you can’t help but think the inevitable could actually happen. Never have I feared for the lives of animated characters more than in this movie.
6) Ratatouille (2007)
A Parisian rat named Remy just wants to become a chef. This could have gone wrong on so many levels, but it didn’t.  “Ratatouille” is highly enjoyable, recounting some of the Disney gems from the golden age of animation. When Remy starts cooking up a storm in the Parisian kitchen he has crashed, the moves are like ballet, effortlessly propelling his miniature body all around the kitchen and unequivocally expressing his unadorned passion for cooking.  This again shows just how influenced by Chaplin the great animators at Pixar really are.
7) Finding Nemo (2003)
I can think of three times in cinematic history where an actor or actress deserved to get nominated for a voice performance: Robin Williams as the Genie in “Aladdin”, Jeremy Irons as Scar in “The Lion King”, and of course Ellen DeGeneres as Dory in Pixar’s “Finding Nemo”. The work DeGeneres does here is nothing short of brilliant.  She uses a playful innocence to counterbalance Albert Brooks’ sombre, more serious tone as Nemo’s father.  The lighter optimism of Dory shines through and perfectly complements the astonishing visuals of the coral reef in all its glory.
8) Toy Story 2 (1999)
We had no right to expect a sequel that would be better than the original, but that’s exactly what “Toy Story 2″ accomplished. This time around we had a better story, improved animation, and an exhilarating sense of adventure. If the original was riding high off of its landmark CGI, this sequel was trying to perfect the glitches that held the story back a little the first time around. With Indiana Jones styled action, “Toy Story 2″ proved there was still room to expand in the Pixar canon, and that these guys were dead serious about blowing us away.
9) Toy Story (1995)
It all started here. The first time I saw “Toy Story” I could scarcely imagine how groundbreaking and important it would become for animation. This movie literally changed the game and practically got rid of all hand drawn animation in Hollywood, which of course is a real shame, because hand drawn is still one of the most beautiful and creative ways to make a movie – just look at any Hayao Miyazaki movie if you don’t believe me. Now almost every single animated movie is CGI and we’ve relied so heavily on it because of how monstrous a success Pixar had with “Toy Story”. The facial expressions, the movements, and the effortless flow that carry characters about was unprecedented. It was goodbye to the classical and welcome to the new age.
10) Monsters Inc. (2000)
There hasn’t been a cuter, more adorable Pixar creation than Boo. The little girl who called Sully “Kitty” just about made the movie for me. The attention to detail given to Boo was simply amazing, encompassing the smallest, most precious details a baby girl can have.  Every time she spoke you couldn’t help but just want to hug the screen. Kudos must be given to directors Pete Docter, Lee Unkrich and David Silverman who let this kid run loose and cause chaos at Monsters Inc. Billy Crystal and John Goodman’s voice work and chemistry here is tremendous.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Ah-Nuld, Bruce and the art of the action movie

"Mad Max: Fury Road" has singlehandedly redefined what an action movie can do. George Miller worked on his baby for the better part of 30 years and his vision was finally unleashed on screens nationwide a few weekends ago to the ravest of rave reviews. Where does this "Mad Max" stack up with the others? I'm pretty sure it's on par with, if not better than, 1982's "The Road Warrior", a film that changed the action movie game over 30 years ago. Will "Fury Road" be as indelibly treasured a decade or two from now? Time will tell, but the feminist angle – a kickass Charlize Theron – and chaotically edited action might be a sign of things to come with the genre (could be a good thing or it could be a bad thing). When the movie was done all I could think of was how all these young, hip, new superhero movie directors coming from the indie scene just got schooled on how an action movie should be made...all this by a 70-year-old filmmaker. 

"Die Hard" changed the action genre almost 30 years ago; ever since then it has evolved in numerous, interesting ways, (mind you not all successful) but it’s given us a handful of great movies. "Fury Road" is only the latest addition to this ever-evolving genre. Where do we go from here? What will be the consequences of a post-“Fury Road” action world? As A.O. Scott wrote in The New York Times, "Miller has reminded us that blockbusters have the potential to not only be art, but radically visionary – even the fourth in a series. What a lovely day, indeed."  Here are ten movies -all released within the last 30 years - that tried to change the game, succeeded and made it a lovely day for blockbusters. 

1) Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991) 
James Cameron's blistering sequel to the 1984 classic is much more of an action movie than its predecessor. Like many of the movies on this list, it first garnered mixed reviews before being re-evaluated years later as a masterpiece. Teaming up with Ah-nuld's Terminator, a buffed up and kickass Linda Hamilton tries to stop the viscerally frightening T-1000, sent from the future to kill her troubled son John Connor. I remember being a teenager when it first came out and I had never seen action scenes staged quite like this before, nor had I ever witnessed special effects as inventively surreal and chaotic. I still haven’tThe special effects still hold up to this day and so does the beating heart that Cameron injects into his characters. It had everything the 21st century action film would strive for, yet none have come close to replicating this 1991 movie's triumphant achievement.  

2) Die Hard (1988) 
Action movies are not the Academy’s thing and for good reason. They are – most of the time – loud, abrasive, dumbed down and ultimately artless films (“The Expendables” anybody?) but sometimes a movie like “Die Hard” goes beyond genre boundaries and achieves something special through sheer perfection of the craft. John McTiernan’s “Die Hard” isn’t high art, but it got the job done in high octane fashion and set the standard for what an action film should be like in the 21st century. It spawned numerous rip-offs in the 90’s and still does today, none of which have attained the excitement of McTiernan’s original. It is in fact not overblown to say that “Die Hard” set the standard for the perfect modern action movie.  

3) The Matrix (1999) 
The action movie was dying in 1999, Arnold was just not Arnold anymore, and there wasn’t a new action star to come and take over the throne. "The Matrix" is where the action movie went techno. Literally, it went beyond the technological and creative limits we thought were set for action. For better or for worse, "bullet time" reinvigorated the genre and shattered the clichés for a whole bunch of new ones to come. This is where the surreal got mixed into the action and canonized a whole bunch of copycats. Imagination and originality crept into the equation and signaled a whole new generation of mainstream filmmaking built on ideas as much as action. “The Matrix” was an inspiration for up and coming filmmakers and the countless camera tricks that were to come. Hell, even music videos changed their style because of it. The film was not just built on getting your pulse pounding, but also on getting your mind blown. Its Asian cinema-inspired leaps signaled the start of something new at the movies. Of note, another triumphant female heroine was introduced in the form of Carrie Ann Moss' Trinity. The sequels disappointed, but we'll always have the original.  

4) The Killer (1989) 
If you want to know where Quentin Tarantino, Robert Rodriguez and even Johnnie To learned to fabricate their over-the-top violence, look no further than this 1989 John Woo classic. Starring Chow Yun-Fat as a lethal assassin who accepts one last hit in order to restore a young girl's vision, this Chinese action movie's influence was felt all over cinema and is justly called an important landmark in the genre. Just a year after its release, Luc Besson basically ripped it off for the excitingly entertaining "La Femme Nikita" and a few years later for his now classic "Leon: The Professional". Much of the borrowing from Woo's film is superficial—two-handed gunning, doves flying, near operatic kills – but it paved the way for the possibility of making bloody violence look artistically eloquent. Woo followed up with another classic, “Hard Boiled”, but to this day nothing in his career can top “The Killer”. 

5) Aliens (1986) 
Aliens” taught us to never underestimate the stupidity of man. "Get away from her you bitch" exclaimed Sigourney Weaver's Ripley at the climax of this 1986 sequel to "Alien", a film that epitomized female power in a male dominated society. Like many of James Cameron's other films, this featured a strong, kickass female lead. If the original movie veered more towards the horror genre, Cameron shifted the emphasis towards a more action packed screenplay with an abundance of quotability. When Vasquez gets asked by her peers, "are you a man?" she hilariously replies "no, are you?" The feminist undertones are present, but one cannot go without mentioning the action sequences that left the viewer without a heartbeat by the end of the film's pulse pounding 146 minutes. To this day Ripley is still the set example for what a female action heroine should be.

6) The Bourne Trilogy (2002-2007) "The Bourne Identity" introduced movie-goers to a new type of action hero and a new style of action. Gone were the big-budget, explosion-laden, slick, special effects extravaganzas, in was a gritty template, naturalistic action sequences, and hand-held camera fight scenes. Our hero was no longer the cocky son of a gun trying to save the world; he was trying to save himself and find out who he was. Whatever you think of these movies you can't possibly deny the impact its had on this decade's action fare. Heck, even James Bond has been dubbed "James Bourne" by many. Liam Neeson was basically Jason Bourne in the "Taken" moviesditto Keanu Reeves in last year's "John Wick", Angie Jolie in "Salt", Tom Cruise in "Jack Reacher". Hand to hand combat was replicated in "Captain America: The Winter Soldier", and even Christopher Nolan used Bourne-esque moves in his "Dark Knight" trilogy.  

7) The Fugitive (1993) 
Another Best Picture nominee, this one stars Harrison Ford and is based on the popular 1960's television series. Accused of a murder he did not commit, Ford's John Kimble tries to find the one-armed man who killed his wife in order to clear his name. Fairly standard, but expertly done and a true classic of the genre. While Arnold, Stallone and JCVD were blowing stuff up and strutting their roided bodies on screen, Harrison Ford and "The Fugitive" knocked our socks off with wild stunts, Andrew Davis' tight direction, and a believable story that had us invested in the characters. They really just don't make them like they used to. Tommy Lee Jones won a Best Supporting Actor, besting out – huh – Ralph Fiennes in Schindler's List? But thats just a whole other story I won’t get into.  

8) Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) 
You can't deny the sheer impact of Mad Max: Fury Road. Director George Miller's Fourth installment of the film franchise is proof that not all blockbusters should be greeted with an indifferent shrug. If anything, this brutal action film is even more intense and exciting than its predecessors. With its nihilistic outlook on human nature and a nasty, in-your-face style, this is Miller's triumph through and through. The amount of detail that he brings to every frame is as obsessively meticulous as any Wes Anderson picture I've seenas is the editing by Margaret Sixel, which – as we stand – is most deserving of next year's Film Editing Oscar. Edited at breakneck pace and staged with manic fury, Sixel is the unheralded hero here. The celebrated one is of course Miller who's passion and vision comes through in every frame. The total control he must have had with this project to pull off what he did on screen is unheard of, which is good for him and great for us.

9) Predator (1987) 
If there’s any genre that calls for the acceptance of guilty pleasures, it’s action. You probably have this 1987 classic starring Arnold Schwarzenegger to thank for that. Carl Weather and Jessie Ventura compliment Ah-nuld in this testosterone fuelled beast hunt in the Central American jungle. Not sold yet? At one point Bill Duke says “This shit makes Cambodia look like Kansas”. I can’t say the plot is rocket science, but there’s something incredibly exciting happening here – a feeling that we just checked our brains at the door and let this pop culture milestone whiplash usAll credit is given to director John McTiernan who, one year away from his “Die Hard” triumph, takes a B-movie level script and elevates into a classic of the genre. Not convinced yet? Just tell me a smile doesn’t appear on your face when Arnold, finally face to face with the hunter utters “You’re one ugly motherfucker.” Classic. 

10) Speed (1994) "There's a bomb on the bus", Dennis Hopper screams halfway through this tense 1994 action movie. No worries, a strong and determined Sandra Bullock and Keanu Reeves try to stop the devilish Hopper. Psychotic and scary as hell, Hopper brings real evil to the movie, determined to wipe out anything in his path. With shades of his gas-huffing Frank from "Blue Velvet", mixed with his deranged Feck of "River's Edge", Hopper's villainous Howard Payne owns every frame he's in and leaves a mark on the film, even when not onscreen. It's a profoundly disturbing portrait of a man gone haywire that set the bar for the audacity, insanity and level at which a mainstream movie villain can go. Just think about it, every movie villain since Payne has had the freedom to go to extremes that might not have been available without this movie.