20. Minority Report
2002 is the first year where I can remember paying close attention to what was coming to theatres. And the irony is that almost none of those big franchise movies I was dying to see hold up today. Spider-Man, Attack of the Clones, Men in Black II, Austin Powers 3, Chamber of Secrets, Die Another Day. And that’s ignoring all the other movies I didn’t give a crap about then or now, like Jason X, Halloween Resurrection, Ice Age, Hannibal, xXx, and Star Trek 10. Steven Spielberg’s Minority Report, with The Two Towers at its side, stands atop the staggeringly tall pile of carcasses that is the 2002 crop of wide release films.
I watch Minority Report and it scratches all the itches. It’s a thriller, and it’s a solid character drama. It’s got offbeat comedy, some big action scenes, a clever mystery. It’s has an awesome vision of a world fifty years in the future, not quite a dystopia, just an extrapolation of 2002 trends taken to their logical end points. And there are (harrumph harrumph) some fascinating philosophical underpinnings about fate vs. free will, the story engages in some interesting paradoxes without being burdened by a complicated time travel story.
If there’s a slight downside it’s that it doesn’t do all these things simultaneously, so Minority Report does tend to lurch from tone to tone. A lengthy action scene in a car factory is followed by a demented comedic performance by Peter Stormare is followed by a tearjerking scene of Tom Cruise lamenting his lost child, and I’ll admit it’s a tad whiplashly. But the cumulative effect when the credits roll is of a well rounded day at the movies.
To me this is Steven Spielberg entertainment on par with [future spoiler] and [future spoiler], though I can’t find many who agree. Everyone I mention Minority Report to remembers seeing it and liking it ok, but no one thinks it was anything special. If you’re in that camp, I recommend giving it another look. What, there’s another 2002 blockbuster you’re going to watch instead?
*FULL REVIEW COMING SOON*
Amusement (Humour/Elation): MODERATE. If there’s one aspect that doesn’t 100% integrate with the movie, it’s some of those little Spielbergian type minor characters and moments that wouldn’t be out of place in the Indiana Jones movies.
Anxiety (Suspense): The seeming inescapability of John’s situation is keenly felt throughout.
Adrenaline (Excitement): HIGH. In the action/adventure section of the movie.
Affection (Emotional Impact): HIGH. The pool flashback, and the moment in which Agatha describes the life that might have been in the Anderton’s household.
Applicability (Real World Resonance): HIGH. If pre-crime was real and people who only intended to commit murder could be arrested without trial, would you trade free will for that level of safety?
Appreciation (Construction): HIGH. The mystery behind why this is happening to John is involving and has at least one moment that I absolutely didn’t expect.
Awe (Visual Impact): HIGH. The film has such a unique colour scheme and blurry look, you recognize the move instantly from a still frame.
19. Hot Fuzz
This ought to have been a movie doomed by its own overexertion. Flying in the face of all logic, Hot Fuzz is a full two hours long instead of the standard ninety minutes for a comedy. And it is a PACKED two hours at that. With its knock-off Michael Mann style, scenes are edited to within an inch of their life. Plot points, characters, and jokes race past you. The movie goes from a story of an intense big city cop adjusting to small town life, to a convoluted and gory murder mystery, to a full on apocalyptic war, and any one of these premises could have comfortably sustained a film on its own. The only way Hot Fuzz doesn’t burn you out long before the end credits is if it’s got one of the funniest scripts ever written. And thankfully…
Aside from that you’ve got my favourite Bond Timothy Dalton (I’ll say it) along with swans, statues, action, and romance. Kind of. Simon Pegg was originally meant to have a love interest, but she would up getting deleted and many of her lines were given unaltered to Nick Frost. That the relationship genuinely isn’t any different from the duos in a lot of buddy movies is another sly bit of satire.
My only real knock against Hot Fuzz is that it inspired me to finally watch the two flicks that it most explicitly references, Point Break and Bad Boys 2.
You will be seeing neither on this list.
*FULL REVIEW COMING SOON*
Affection (Emotional Impact): N/A
Applicability (Real World Resonance): N/A
Awe (Visual Impact): MODERATE. It’s hard to figure out Edgar Wright’s style since he so often is doing a parody, but I love that small English town the film is set in.
Anxiety (Suspense): MODERATE. A surprising number of scene in the middle of the film are meant to be at least someone scary.
Adrenaline (Excitement): HIGH. Likewise, it’s also intended to really be an action movie, despite how the top it is.
Appreciation (Construction): HIGH. The script is almost impossibly layered with hidden jokes, references, foreshadowing, and callbacks, you could watch the movie a half dozen times and still catch something new.
Amusement (Humour/Elation): EXTRAORDINARY. “Have you ever fired your gun in the air and yelled, ‘Aaaaaaah?’” “No I have not fired my gun in the air and yelled ‘Aaaaaaah.”
18. Casino Royale (2006)
Casino Royale is a generous lover in movie form. It feels like a entire trilogy of films compressed into one, with all the boring parts taken out. The first hour of Casino Royale hits all the beats you expect in a James Bond movie and hits them good. Then it becomes a psychological thriller set in a casino, in which the filmmakers find all manner of inventive ways to make a game of Texas Hold ‘Em feel as high stakes as possible. Then it finishes out with a movie about a tragic romance that ends in bullets (and nails).
Daniel Craig has the role well in hand his first time out, Eva Green is the best leading lady in the series, Judi Dench as M has never been better or more caustic. If you love the book it’s all here, but with a lot of savvy changes to make it more cinematic. The opening credits sequence is amazing, the parkour chase is my favourite action sequence of all time, there’s an Aston Martin that barrel rolls seven times… Casino Royale gives and gives and gives.
I don’t know if it’s a movie that transcends the James Bond franchise. Given that it does a few things that are atypical for the series, it’s probably not representative of a typical Bond experience. But it is the best movie with the 007 label attached, and I don’t expect to ever see it topped.
*FULL REVIEW COMING SOON*
Applicability (Real World Resonance): N/A
Amusement (Humour/Elation): LOW. Probably the movie that most successfully gets some laughs when it wants them (which is only occasionally).
Awe (Visual Impact): MODERATE. I can’t help but grade it on a curb with the visuals in Skyfall, but it’s a beautiful movie still.
Anxiety (Suspense): MODERATE. In the poker game, and especially in the torture scene.
Affection (Emotional Impact): HIGH. Of the three Bond movies to end on a down note (all of which are on my list) this one has the hardest punch.
Adrenaline (Excitement): EXTRAORDINARY. Action scenes are pretty scarce by Bond standards, but the Parkour scene alone scores full marks.
Appreciation (Construction): EXTRAORDINARY. It’s a really unusual movie in how its paced, but delivers everything you want in Bond and much much more.
“It was too dark, too subterranean, and much too horrific.”
17. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom
This is the best of the Indiana Jones series, so long as you can ignore the misogyny, the cultural insensitivity, and the gratuitous scenes of child beatings. And I can. God help me, I can.
This was a movie I saw at just the right time; old enough to understand what was happening, too young to realize that the character whose name is in the title is not likely to die in the course of the story. When Indiana Jones was poisoned, or in a room of spikes, or under the Thuggee curse, it was never “How is he getting out of this one?” It was “WILL he get out of this one?”
So this is one where I’m asking allowance for childhood nostalgia. But only a bit of allowance, if I’m being honest. Even though I saw Temple of Doom at a tender formative age, it holds up extraordinarily well for me as an adult.
That’s not to say there aren’t very real problems; Willie Scott is a female character brought to the screen by a pair of male filmmakers who just went through some ugly break-ups, which works out as well as you might expect. And the people who currently have a problem with Apu in The Simpsons would shit themselves if they saw this movie’s depiction of the Thuggees. But watching Temple of Doom as a kid, all I noticed was the adventure. That’s pretty much all I notice today, and I don’t really make any apologies for that.
Steven Spielberg himself calls this movie too dark, but this self perceived miscalculation accidentally becomes the key to Temple of Doom’s success for me. The third quarter of the movie is so oppressive and so frightening, it’s all the more cathartic once the escape from the titular Temple of Doom is finally underway.
The wall-to-wall action scenes in the final half hour are incredibly well staged, but the stakes couldn’t be higher; if Indy and his friends get caught, Mola Ram is going to stick them all back in the nightmare we spend such a long part of the movie in. Not wanting the Nazis to get religious artifacts is a perfectly good story motivator, but a Dante’s Hell type chamber where kidnapped children are beaten, hearts are pulled out, and good men are drugged into becoming evil? That’s immediate and it’s visceral. The whole third act boils down to Indy trying to put some distance between himself and that all that shit, and it’s easy to get on board along with him.
And aside from all that I’ve got a soft spot for Short Round (although I get it if you don’t, having disliked similar child sidekick characters myself), Mola Ram is far and away the nastiest villain of the series, and John Williams is at his most bombastic. Mostly though, I love how uncluttered the story is. A madcap opening half hour, a sequence that sets up the story, a character building travelogue, the Temple itself, and the escape. Anyone can follow it, and the near lack of exposition is a strength.
In every sense Temple of Doom is as close to a roller coaster as a movie can get, and if that roller coaster’s a little too nasty at points, that makes the parts that work all the better.
*FULL REVIEW COMING SOON*
Applicability (Real World Resonance): N/A.
Amusement (Humour/Elation): LOW. The movies pretty hit and miss with the comedy, and some of it (like the dinner scene) is pretty cringy.
Awe (Visual Impact): MODERATE. Has a deliberate B-movie look to it but fits the story well.
Appreciation (Construction): HIGH. Simple and effective.
Affection (Emotional Impact): HIGH. I want those kids to be set free!
Anxiety (Suspense): EXTRAORDINARY. The middle of the movie in the Temple is almost overwhelming in how horrific it is.
Adrenaline (Excitement): EXTRAORDINARY. All the action is packed into the first and last half hours, and those parts of the movie are breathless.
16. Moonrise Kingdom
Wes Anderson more than any filmmaker today seems like someone who puts the world as he wants it to be on film. And his fanbase has taken to that world so voraciously, we’re at the point where if Wes Anderson’s next film wasn’t a Wes Anderson film, we wouldn’t accept it. He’s a victim of his own artistic vision, a man trapped in a pastel, perfectly symmetrical universe of his own design with only Jason Schwartzman and some randomly murdered pets to keep him company. Maybe that’s why Moonrise Kingdom is the movie with the most personal feeling to it. Maybe Anderson made a film about characters escaping their world because he couldn’t do that for himself.
Ok, I don’t actually believe anything I just said. Wes Anderson seems like a guy who’s perfectly happy doing what he’s doing. But a lot of articles about his films say shit like that and I wanted to fit in.
Moonrise Kingdom is right at the point where Anderson has perfected his style and before he maaaaybe let things get a little too twee in The Grand Budapest Hotel. He centers the movie not on detached, deadpan adults with nebulous life goals, but on an accessible story about two young teenagers discovering love (the detached deadpan adults are in the movie, they’re just not the focus).
Actors like Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, Tilda Swinton, Frances McDormand, and Bob Balaban are welcome additions to the Anderson-verse alongside Bill Murray and Jason Schwartzman. And Moonrise Kingdom is so filled with detail, every shot is packed with background jokes and incongruous set dressing, more and more is revealed every time you watch it.
That’s true of all Anderson movies though. Moonrise Kingdom is my favourite because it strikes the most personal chord. I read books that looked like the books Suzy reads, I felt at home wandering in the woods like Sam does, I often felt different or alienated from the other kids my age like they do. And the movie so captures a kid’s idea of what romance is, which mainly just involves sneaking away from your family and finding a private place to make out. Nearly everything in the movie is either something that happened to me or something I fantasized about happening, and now here it is on the screen in warm colours and good humour. Watching Moonrise Kingdom is like sinking into a bath that’s just the right temperature.
The decade isn’t over yet, but Moonrise Kingdom is on track to go down as my favourite movie of the 2010s.
Anxiety (Suspense): N/A
Adrenaline (Excitement): LOW. Edward Norton to the rescue!
Appreciation (Construction): MODERATE. The movie’s success is rooted more in the style and the cast.
Applicability (Real World Resonance): HIGH. I can relate.
Affection (Emotional Impact): HIGH. Gets downright depressing late in the movie as the kids and various parents contemplate how their lives aren’t working out.
Awe (Visual Impact): EXTRAORDINARY. If ever I want to experience a summer day in the middle of winter I put on Moonrise Kingdom.
Amusement (Humour/Elation): EXTRAORDINARY. “Was he a good dog?” “Who’s to say?”