Pixar


1995
Toy Story (John Lasseter) 73
[ review ]

1998
A Bug’s Life (John Lasseter and Andrew Stanton) 48
[ This is pure eye candy like all Pixar movies but, maybe because “Antz” covered the same grounds first (and better), this particular flick is not so involving. The humor is childish, the characters are forgettable… This is no “Toy Story”. ]

1999
Toy Story 2 (John Lasseter, Lee Unkrich and Ash Brannon) 75
[ review ]


2001
Monsters, Inc. (Lee Unkrich, Pete Docter and David Silverman) 74
[ review ]


2003
Finding Nemo (Andrew Stanton and Lee Unkrich) 86
[ review ]


2004
The Incredibles (Brad Bird) 60
[ review ]


2006
Cars (John Lasseter and Joe Ranft) 63
[ review ]


2007
Ratatouille (Brad Bird) 85
[ Not only has Pixar managed to make rats adorable in this flick, they also got away with putting them in a restaurant kitchen, the last place we would usually want to find them! Voiced by Patton Oswalt, the titular rodent only wants to cook, but it’s hard out there for a gourmet rat… Until he teams with a dishwasher who becomes his front so he can become the best chef in Paris! “Ratatouille” is a wonderfully entertaining movie which proves that cartoons don’t have to be only for kids, they can be one of the most sensational forms of expression there. With an amazing attention to detail, Brad Bird has created an eye-popping film which makes brilliant use of light, textures and virtual camerawork. The character design and the voice performances are great as well and most of all, the story is original, unpredictable, funny and moving, too, with its theme about how one can transcend his nature and become what he dreams of, no matter what his origins are. Oh, and that epiphany near the end by the critic character voiced by Peter O’Toole? Brought me to tears. ]


2008
WALL•E (Andrew Stanton) 93
[ review ]


2009
Up (Pete Docter and Bob Peterson) 72
[ After a charming little scene where our protagonist, Carl Fredricksen, meets his future wife while they’re both children dreaming of going on amazing adventures, we’re shown the next 60-some years of their life together through a series of happy memories set to Michael Giacchino’s extraordinary classical score. Who knew a wordless montage could be so moving? Carl and his wife lived a wonderful life, but one he feels was not devoid of regrets, of missed opportunities. Notably, the fact that they never got to go on that trip to South America they always dreamed of before his wife passed away. But gosh darn it, it ain’t over ’til it’s over, right? So the old guy ties up thousands of ballons to his house and up! it goes into the sky, on its way south, way south…

This is pure fantasy, of course, but it’s driven by real sadness and real hope, which makes it incredibly poetic and beautiful. Visually, also, the sight of this flying house with all those bright, colourful balloons is a treat… So much so that once Carl actually gets to South America, it’s a bit of a downer. What follows is less lyrical, more conventionally cartoonish, you know, for kids, what with Carl soon being followed by a Boy Scout, a big silly bird and a talking dog (don’t ask). There’s also a conflict that arises involving a bona fide old-timey adventurer, which is okay but again, more typical than what came before. Still, sad old Carl remains endearing, talking to his dead wife throughout the film. And of course, the thing is absolutely gorgeously crafted, which is to be expected from Pixar. It’s just that whereas the first act of “Up” is four-star great, the remainder is “only” three-star good… ]

2010
Toy Story 3 (Lee Unkrich) 86
[ Opening with a wildly enjoyable Western/sci-fi sequence with the feel of Spielberg and Zemeckis’s movie-movies, climaxing with a truly scary glimpse of mass death that has actually been linked by some scribes to the Holocaust, and filled with awesome action, funny bits and moving moments throughout, this brilliant final chapter in the “Toy Story” trilogy outdoes its predecessors in every way. Thriving on the kind of boundless imagination a kid displays during playtime, indiscriminately throwing together cowboy, space ranger, Mr. Potato Head, aliens, dinosaur and others, this typically technically flawless Pixar production is also inhabited by a sense of loss, of abandonment, of being “grown out of” as childhood ends… It makes one nostalgic about his own lost, thrown out or given away toys, even though they might never have been as endearing as Woody (Tom Hanks), Buzz (Tim Allen) and the rest of the gang.

Plotwise, “Toy Story 3” takes the form of a prison (or POW or, again, Holocaust) film, with our heroes struggling to escape from a daycare center where toys are ruled over by an “evil bear who smells of strawberries” (!) and his cronies, who include the creepy Big Baby, a screaming cymbal-banging monkey and “girl’s toy” Ken. As mentioned, it all works wonders, delivering plenty of thrills, laughs and maybe even some tears. Between this and “Shrek Forever After”, 2010 is proving to be an amazing year for animated sequels. ]

2011
Cars 2 (John Lasseter)

2012
Brave (Mark Andrews & Brenda Chapman)

2013
Monsters University (Dan Scanlon)

2015
Inside Out (Pete Docter) 94
[ review ]

Jody Hill

2008
The Foot Fist Way 64
[ Recalling both David Mamet’s recent “Redbelt” and Ricky Gervais’ “The Office”, this sorta-mockumentary is a bit uneven and unpolished, but still works thanks to star Danny McBride and the terrific comic creation that is Fred Simmons. This Tae Kwon Fo instructor is such an asshole! Here’s a guy who barely flinches when little kids or old ladies get knocked out and who carelessly says the most abusive things… Here’s a comedy that seems fuelled purely by frustration and anger, which is quite ironic when the lead character keeps talking about courtesy, self-control and indomitable spirit! ]

2009
Eastbound & Down (Season One) 75
[ Danny McBride, man, Danny fucking McBride. This HBO series is very “Foot Fist Way”, what with Danny once again playing an arrogant, pathetic, inappropriate and foul-mouthed character, in this case a former professional ballplayer who now teaches middle-school phys ed. Will Ferrell and Adam McKay produce the show and David Gordon Green directed three episodes, but really that barely has anything to do with me enjoying the show, as the direction is pretty straightforward. It’s all about the McBride, whom I think I could watch strut around and berate people forever. The supporting cast is also awesome, from sidekick Steve Little to dweeby principal Andrew Daly to all the hilariously slutty female characters (Katy Mixon, Sylvia Jefferies). And just like in “The Office”, an obvious influence on this series, every episode seems to make the protagonist more ridiculous and more pathetic, but also curiously more endearing. That’s another thing the McBride’s got going for him: as shameless and over the top as his portrayal of Kenny Powers can be, it’s also surprisingly grounded and heartfelt. Of course, it’s too bad that this first season is so short (6 half hours), but at the same time, I respect co-creators Jody Hill, Ben Best and Danny McBride’s decision to follow the example of “The Office” and keep the audience wanting more with these hit-and-run seasons, instead of needlessly stretching things out. We’ll miss you, Kenny Powers. Until next time… ]

2009
Observe and Report 71
[ review ]

2010
Eastbound & Down (Season Dos) 83
[ When we catch up with Kenny Powers again, he’s down in the “savage land” of Mexico, hanging out with shady characters (including badass midget Deep Roy), taking part in cockfights, fucking prostitutes, doing drugs, riding his moped… and eventually playing baseball again with the Charros. As gloriously played by Danny McBride, Powers might have traded the mullet for cornrows (for a while anyway), but he’s still such a great character, so dumb, mean, vulgar, offensive and ridiculous! And as in the first season, as caricatural as the character can be, he’s also full of unexpected pathos. Kenny’s new love interest (Ana de la Reguera), who’s got a great ass instead of big ole titties like his former flame, Michael Peña as the owner of the Charros, who’s like the villain in a 1980s action movie, and Don Johnson as the mysterious Eduardo Sanchez are a lot of fun, and Season Dos also sees the return of dweeby sidekick/groupie Steve Little, who’s desperate to join Powers’ “Hispanic adventure”. Amongst other things, Jody Hill (and David Gordon Green, who directed a couple of episodes again) seems to be riffing on Westerns in Season Dos, down to including cuts from Ennio Morricone on the soundtrack, and he’s also going all out with the sports flick spoof (he’s described it as “a cross between the films Amores perros and The Bad News Bears”). Hopefully, we’ll get a third season soon enough… ]

2012
Eastbound & Down (Season Three) 65
[ Kenny Powers, still the consumate asshole, is now playing baseball in Myrtle Beach, but that soon isn’t the main thing on his mind. How could it be when he finds himself “stuck” with his baby son after former flame April disappears on him, which leads to many scenes in which Kenny demonstrates his so-called “parenting skills”. Back on the baseball field, as he’s trying to impress a Major League scout (Matthew McConaughey), he gets competition on the pitching mound from a new Russian player. There are also multiple references to “Top Gun”, as Kenny and new best friend Shane (Jason Sudeikis) argue about who of the two is Tom Cruise and who’s Goose. And then there’s the return of Don Johnson as old man Powers as well as the introduction of Lily Tomlin as his ex-wife and Kenny’s mother, in what is unfortunately one of the lesser episodes of the series. In fact, this third season as a whole isn’t that great, in my opinion. Season One was our introduction to Kenny Powers, Season Dos shook things up by taking the action to Mexico and now, Season Three… There’s the whole baby thing, I guess, but they kind of beat that thread into the ground. How many scenes of ridiculously incompetent parenting can we get? The season finale is also oddly contrived. Maybe Season Four is better? To be continued… ]

Kenny Powers Toby

Zack Snyder

2004
Dawn of the Dead 70
[ Right from the get-go, this seems to have less to do with the George A. Romero classic than with “28 Days Later”, what with the super fast zombies and everything-goes gore and mayhem. There’s also kind of a John Carpenter thing going on, in regards to the badass cast of characters that features Sarah Polley, Ving Rhames, Mekhi Phifer and even Tom Savini! First time at the bat, Zack Snyder already proves to be quite the efficient little filmmaker. We never really care about any of the characters, but the thing moves and there are a lot of gripping bits. ]

2007
300 68
[ 480 B.C. Leonidas and the 300 bravest Spartans are about to take on the army of Xerses, which is a million man strong. It’s a suicide mission, but they fully intend to give the Persian one hell of a fight before they die. Or, in the words of William Wallace: “They may take our lives, but they’ll never take our freedooooooom!” Because let’s admit it, it’s impossible not to think of “Braveheart” while watching “300”. Even though the Battle of Thermopylae took place many centuries before the First War of Scottish Independence, in movie terms, there’s no doubt that Mel Gibson’s film influenced Zack Snyder’s. Alas, whereas Gibson, in all his marvellous madness, really orchestrated epic mayhem involving thousands of extras clashing iron and making (fake) blood spurt, Snyder mostly relies on CGI and we can tell. The action sequences are still exciting, but they make us feel more like we’re in a videogame than on a battleground. At its best when it contents itself with recreating the imagery and the gallows humor of Frank Miller’s graphic novel, “300” suffers when it cuts away to unnecessary, dull scenes involving the Spartan queen and the Senate. During those, we just long to return to Leonidas, who’s played with brash bravado by a bigger than life Gerald Butler, who might be the best thing about the whole thing. ]

2009
Watchmen 92
[ review ]

2010
Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole
[ Have yet to see it… Will probably catch it on DVD. Maybe. ]

2011
Sucker Punch
[ Reviews are rotten… Looks like a case of wait-for-DVD. ]

2013
Man of Steel 70
[ review ]

2016
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice 59
[ Reviewed on Extra Beurre ]

Darren Aronofsky

1998
Pi 80
[ Wow, it’s amazing how closely this mirrors “Requiem for a Dream” stylistically: the frantic inserts, the spaced out tracking shots, the paranoid editing, the Clint Mansell music… Except that Aronofsky’s first film is in B&W, and it’s about mathematics and nature and the stock market and religion and patterns and chaos and game theory and insanity and genius… Oddly enough, there are elements of both Ron Howard’s “A Beautiful Mind” and “The Da Vinci Code” in there, minus the former’s biopic bullshit and the latter’s pulpy plotting. This is quite the debut for Aronofsky, fully announcing a major new filmmaking voice, even though in the end, it kind of just fizzles out instead of leaving us in a state of shock and awe, like his subsequent pictures would. ]

2000
Requiem for a Dream 92
[ review ]

2006
The Fountain 94
[ review ] / [ review 2.0 ]

2008
The Wrestler 91
[ review ]

2010
Black Swan 94
[ review ]

Noah

2013
Noah 88
[ review ]

2017
mother! 93
[ Reviewed on Extra Beurre ]

Edgar Wright

1999-2001
Spaced 75
[ It’s great to get to see how both Simon Pegg’s on-screen persona and Edgar Wright’s Sam Raimi/Coen bros.-style pop-up visuals were honed before our eyes through this TV series, which also features the kind of geeky references that would later be found in the pair’s movies. There’s even some zombie killing in one episode, (paintball) shoot-outs in another, and Nick Frost is in there too, albeit in a smaller part. Pegg’s true co-star here (and his co-writer) is Jessica Stevenson, who’s wonderfully daffy. ]

2004
Shaun of the Dead 93
[ review ]

2007
Hot Fuzz 92
[ review ]

2010
Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World 94
[ review ]

2013
The World’s End 79
[ In their third collaboration together after the awesome zombie comedy “Shaun of the Dead” and the badass action movie spoof “Hot Fuzz”, writer-director Edgar Wright, writer-star Simon Pegg and co-star Nick Frost tackle sci-fi, though that is not obvious at first. For a long while, we’re watching the straightforward, grounded, realistic story of a longtime fuckup (Pegg) who somehow convinces his four childhood friends (Frost, Martin Freeman, Eddie Marsan, Paddy Considine) to try to complete a pub crawl they attempted 20-some years ago. Five friends, 12 pubs, all in one night. Their goal is to finally reach the last pub, The World’s End. But eventually, it becomes to simply survive the night, as they discover that their hometown has been taken over by an alien force that has replaced the people with robots-who-aren’t-really-robots… This leads to a few big brawls and chases which are entertaining, if not that extraordinary. Likewise, I found Wright’s direction to be less dynamic and spectacular than what he has used us to, though I did enjoy the riffs on “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” and John Carpenter’s “The Thing”, among other things. The best thing about “The World’s End” is probably the cast, starting with Pegg and Frost, who enjoyably trade places as far as who’s playing the wild and crazy guy and who’s playing the straight man. But I have to admit that while I liked the flick quite a lot, I did feel a bit disappointed. Especially coming after “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World”, one of my absolute favourites of the last few years. Maybe my expectations were too high? ]

2017
Baby Driver 92
[ Reviewed for Extra Beurre ]

Guillermo del Toro

1993
Cronos 28
[ It begins with a somewhat intriguing prologue, followed by rather clunky scenes involving an old antique dealer (Federico Luppi). The introduction of Ron Pearlman piques our interest, obviously, but the first act remains mostly dull, despite some creepy moments. Half an hour in, nothing much has happened, which is problematic in a 90 minute film. We slowly discover what the Cronos device does, the old antique dealer uses it a few times and gets roughed up by Pearlman because of it… Eventually, at around the hour mark, this fully becomes a horror/fantasy film for reasons I won’t reveal. But don’t expect much thrills, scares or anything. Just a few more creepy moments, amidst a lot of boring, pointless sequences. I didn’t know Guillermo del Toro had such a lame film in him. ]

1997
Mimic

2001
The Devil’s Backbone 93
[ “What is a ghost? A tragedy condemned to repeat itself time and again? An instant of pain, perhaps. Something dead which still seems to be alive. An emotion suspended in time. Like a blurred photograph. Like an insect trapped in amber.”

First off, I was surprised by the golden hues of the cinematography and the desert location, expecting this to be as oppressively dark and dank as the usual ghost stories. The ghost itself is a wonderful creation, both for the amazing special effects work and the more sad than scary context of the haunting. Beyond the ghost, there are great touches all around: the dud bomb in the yard, the doctor selling “limbo water”, the headmistress’ fake leg, the asshole guard looking for treasure, the kids’ love of comic books… Speaking of which, del Toro truly has a way with children, being true to their feelings without idealizing them or making them into stupid movie brats. Set in an orphanage near the end of the Spanish Civil War, the film masterfully juggles fantasy/horror, political and personal drama and comes up with a powerful, multi-layered allegory of Resistance.

“You think that it’ll all work out if we behave?”
“They have the rifle. They’re bigger than us, and stronger.”
“Yes. But there’s more of us.”
]

2002
Blade II 44
[ review ]

2004
Hellboy 64
[ review ]

2006
Pan’s Labyrinth 94
[ review ]

2008
Hellboy II: The Golden Army 75
[ review ]

2013
Pacific Rim 78
[ review ]

2015
Crimson Peak 53
[ Reviewed on Extra Beurre ]

The Pantheon (1998-2008)

On July 1st, I will be celebrating 10 years as an online film critic. The name, address and design of this website has changed numerous times over the years, but one thing has remained constant: my passion for cinema.I already did a retrospective of my first years on the internets when I hit the five year anniversary, so I won’t go through that history again. But I thought I could take this opportunity to establish my own personal pantheon of the most important filmmakers of these last ten years of avid moviewatching that are taking up bandwidth in here.A few precisions: this isn’t about all-time greats, but about folks who’ve done consistently great work between 1998 and 2008. So no Coppola or Scorsese, whose golden years seem to be behind them. I also haven’t included guys like Baz Luhrmann, who’s only made one film in the last 10 years (even though said film, Moulin Rouge!, might be my favorite film of all those years), and Peter Jackson, who definitely had a monumental impact on my moviegoing life with the Lord of the Rings trilogy, but towards whose filmmaking I don’t feel that strong a kinship otherwise.

Without further ado…

THE PANTHEON!

1. Paul Thomas Anderson
1998-2008 output: Magnolia, Punch-Drunk Love, There Will Be Blood

Three films, three masterpieces. No one can compare on a pure quality of the work level. What’s more, each of the three is wildly different, which makes PTA as versatile as he is brilliant. This guy should make anyone’s pantheon.

2. Quentin Tarantino
1998-2008 output: Kill Bill 1-2, Death Proof

This one’s inevitable. I’ve written about this here and there, I wouldn’t be where I am if it wasn’t for QT. His Pulp Fiction single-handedly opened my eyes to the possibilities of cinema beyond Schwarzenegger flicks and got me interested in indie film, the auteur theory, cult movies and so on. He almost didn’t qualify for this because, in fact, Kill Bill is really only one film which happened to be split in two and Death Proof‘s half of one (Grindhouse). But still, while I wish QT was more productive, I adore that film and a half he made in ten years!

3. M. Night Shyamalan
1998-2008 output: The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, Signs, The Village, Lady in the Water, The Happening

Don’t mind the haters, Shyamalan has built a film cycle of unparalleled thematic and stylistic consistency with the first five titles listed above. The Happening, which just came out, feels like a slight letdown at this point, but it might hold up better upon further viewings.

4. Cameron Crowe
1998-2008 output: Almost Famous, Vanilla Sky, Elizabethtown

Now it gets even more personal. While Almost Famous is generally accepted as a great movie, Vanilla Sky and Elizabethtown have divided critics, to say the least. I don’t care, I love them all the same. Crowe is the filmmaker who speaks to me the most directly, on a sentimental level.

5. Steven Spielberg
1998-2008 output: Saving Private Ryan, A.I., Minority Report, Catch Me If You Can, The Terminal, War of the Worlds, Munich, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

The only truly old-school guy on this list, and pretty high up, too! And as I explained, this isn’t an exercise in nostalgia – Spielberg is on this list strictly because I honestly believe he’s done some of his best work these past ten years.

6. Lars von Trier
1998-2008 output: The Idiots, Dancer in the Dark, Dogville, Manderlay, Direktøren for det hele

While I’m not a big fan of everything he’s done (The Idiots and Direktøren for det hele are rather mediocre), Dancer in the Dark and particularly his (still incomplete) USA trilogy still haunt me to this day.

7. David Gordon Green
1998-2008 output: George Washington, All the Real Girls, Undertow, Snow Angels

Maybe the most refreshing new voice to have emerged in the last decade, Green has taken the feel of 1970s American cinema and brought if firmly into the 21st century. Most excitingly, he makes it feel like he’s just getting started!

8. Steven Soderbergh
1998-2008 output: Out of Sight, The Limey, Erin Brockovich, Traffic, Ocean’s Eleven, Full Frontal, Solaris, Ocean’s Twelve, Bubble, The Good German, Ocean’s Thirteen

Soderbergh is by far the most productive filmmaker on this list (11 films in 10 years, 12 if you count his “Che” diptych which was just unveiled in Cannes), which is a mixed blessing, because some of those are bloody awful. Still, he keeps coming back with great and surprising work (he’s also the director who’s made my year-end top ten the most often — 4 times out of the last 10), and even at his worst, you always feel that he’s trying to challenge himself and explore new avenues.

9. Kevin Smith
1998-2008 output: Dogma, Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back, Jersey Girl, Clerks 2

Here we have a guy that I wasn’t sure I should include, as his movies haven’t all been that good. Then again, Smith’ sense of humor and male camaraderie, which predates and outdoes Judd Apatow’s, is perfectly aligned with mine… Maybe because I spent much of these last ten years working as a convenience or video store clerk, shooting the shit with like-minded dudes.

10. Christopher Nolan
1998-2008 output: Following, Memento, Insomnia, Batman Begins, The Prestige

I’m kinda surprising myself with this last pick, because unlike the above directors, or others who didn’t make the cut like Danny Boyle, Sam Raimi, David Fincher, the Coen brothers, Tim Burton and many more, Nolan has never really made me run to go see a film on the basis of his name alone. But when I was looking back through all the Directors Series and checking specifically what each filmmaker had made over the last ten years, I just couldn’t ignore how strong every single flick Nolan’s ever made is! So there you have it, Chris, you’ve made my pantheon!