TOP 10: Best “Movies of the Outdoors”

With summer upon us, and summer being a season that many people love to spend outside as much as they can, I thought it would be fun to do a new top 10 list of movies set primarily outside and where nature figures significantly into their plot or themes. Let me know what you think in the comments!
Honourable Mentions: Jurassic Park (1993); Midsommar (2019)
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Standout nature moments: Ice sliding, watermelon football, “Mmm, piiiinecones!!”
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Standout nature moments: God’s thumb, a lake turned desert, the glorious rain
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Standout nature moments: Tree people, flowers everywhere, “it’s not destroying, it’s making something new”
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Standout nature moments: Zoo on a boat, carnivorous island, ocean light show
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Standout nature moments: Water, water, more water
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Standout nature moments: The jellyfish swim, the EAC, Dory speaking whale
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Standout nature moments: March of the Ents, rain at Helm’s Deep, rock climbing with Gollum
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Standout nature moments: Sand, sand, more sand
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Standout nature moments: Bob Balaban’s informative narration, kids on the run in the woods, the big storm
THE REVENANT
Standout nature moments: Bear attack, bear nap, catching snowflakes

RANKED: Wes Anderson films

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With one of the most distinctive sets of stylistic and storytelling tendencies out there, it seems like you’re bound to either like pretty much all of director/writer Wes Anderson’s films or dislike all of them–or at least go into watching one of his films with a bias leaning either way! I’m in the camp of liking his films; his strong aesthetic and quirky scripts have always appealed to me, and I’ve yet to dislike one of his films! In addition to the similar traits found across his filmography, however, there is still plenty of variety; moreover, I certainly find some of his films to be much better than others, despite the general appeal each of them holds for me. So with that said, may I present to you my ranking of each of Wes Anderson’s feature films to date, to be updated with any others to come in the future (can’t wait!). For fun, since one of Anderson’s trademarks is his quirky dialogue, I’ll include one of my favourite quotes from each flick. Enjoy!

8. The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)

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My official rating: 7/10 (review here)

I suspect having this one at the bottom of my list might surprise some fellow Anderson fans, as I’ve seen it near the top of many other lists, but for whatever reason, this one didn’t connect with me as much as the others. The lack of a singular character focus and the overload of the normally enjoyable deadpan dialogue might have had something to do with it. Maybe it was just a little too monotonous in its melancholy for me to be able to enjoy it as much as some of Anderson’s flicks.

Memorable quote:I’m very sorry for your loss. Your mother was a terribly attractive woman.” – Royal Tenenbaum

7. The Darjeeling Limited (2007)

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My official rating: 7/10 (review here)

Another classic Owen Wilson character blends with Brody and Schwartzman here to create a great set of estranged brothers in a nice bonding road-trip plot. The vibrant colours and diverse setting of India + Anderson’s visual flair and eye for detail is a match made in heaven. Just a little too much shallow melodrama held this back for me.

Memorable quote: “I want us to be completely open and say yes to everything even if it’s shocking and painful. Can we agree to that?” – Francis

6. The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004)

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My rating: 7.5/10 (review here)

One of the first Anderson films that really stood out to me for its filmmaking aesthetic–from the great inner-dollhouse-like pans across the inside of the ship to the great costumes to the acoustic covers of David Bowie songs sung in French by cast member Seu Jorge that provided a unique soundtrack–there was so much to enjoy here just from a purely cinematic perspective. And Anderson regular Bill Murray was great as always, this time in the leading role.

Memorable quote: “Son of a bitch, I’m sick of these dolphins.” – Steve Zissou

5. Bottle Rocket (1996)

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My rating: 8/10 (review here)

Anderson’s now famous visual flair hadn’t yet fully developed in this his first feature film, but hands down, it remains the funniest of all his works, thanks to the outrageous wannabe-criminals plot led by the excellent Wilson brothers duo (Owen’s Dignan is particularly memorable) and supported by a hilarious oddball supporting cast.

Memorable quote: “Okay. There, you see the star is me, right there, and I’ll be in there. The X is Anthony. Bob, you’re the zero out here in the car.” – Dignan

4. Rushmore (1998)

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My rating: 8/10 (review here)

Just recently read a great piece on Rushmore from fellow movie blogger and Anderson fan Josh Hammond over at Monday Morning Movie Quarterback. While I don’t agree with him on the point that it’s Anderson’s very best film (but hey, where’s the fun in agreeing?), I certainly see what he’s saying. His main point was that Rushmore caught Anderson “right before his style overwhelmed his substance”, and thus maintained the perfect balance between his quirky story/character work and his technical showmanship. And while I wouldn’t say that more style than substance was always a bad thing in Anderson’s later films (see my next three blurbs), I can at least affirm that Rushmore contains probably the most thorough and in-depth character work of all his films, most particularly on the central Max (pictured above). He was certainly quirky  and provided plenty of laughs throughout like many other of Anderson’s characters, but there was depth and complexity there too, thanks in large part to his interesting mix of childlike immaturity and adult ambition and vocabulary. Anyways, go check out Josh’s piece and my review above if you’d like to read more on this excellent installment in Anderson’s filmography.

Memorable quote: [Herman, referring to Max]: “Sharp little guy.” [Dr. Nelson Guggenheim]: “He’s one of the worst students we’ve got.”

3. The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)

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My rating: 8.5/10 (review here)

I think The Grand Budapest Hotel is a good example of an Anderson flick where yes, the style does overwhelm the substance, but the style is just so gosh darn incredible that it doesn’t matter. It’s just so vibrant and colourful and detailed; every shot is a painting, a work of art. And there are so many different settings and stylistic schemes too-there is of course, the pinks and purples of the hotel in its heyday. But then there’s the oranges and browns of it in the 70s, the off-whites and greys of the prison, the whites of the mountaintops, etc. And it’s not like the story is a slouch, with a multi-leveled, wacky narrative that fits perfectly with the elaborate and colourful visuals. It’s a marvelous and masterful work of cinematic art that’s pretty funny to boot.

Memorable quote: “You see, there are still faint glimmers of civilization left in this barbaric slaughterhouse that was once known as humanity. Indeed that’s what we provide in our own modest, humble, insignificant… oh, fuck it.” – M. Gustave

2. Moonrise Kingdom (2012)

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My rating: 9/10 (review here)

Tell me that final credits shot isn’t drop-dead gorgeous. Imagine a whole movie looking like that-cool retro set design, beautiful forest scenery, all awash in a sunny, nostalgic haze… scrumptious, I tell you! As for the story, I think it’s safe to say that if Bottle Rocket is Anderson’s funniest, Moonrise Kingdom is his most dramatic. Maybe it has something to do with that excellent orchestral score by Alexandre Desplat. But the story of two young lovers taking on the world run by adults has its fair share of drama, from fugitives on the run, to an arrow shot through the hand, to an impulsive marriage, to the impending doom of a giant flood. The whole film just has this grand feel that I was simply swept away by.

Memorable quote: “We’re in love. We just want to be together. What’s wrong with that?” – Suzy

1. Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009)

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My rating: 9/10 (review here)

Imagine Anderson’s creativity and visual genius with the the element of animation added to the mix and you get Fantastic Mr. Fox. It’s simply a brilliantly crafted film. Anderson’s distinct details and symmetry are still there, but with a more hand-crafted quality, due to the animation. Every scene feels like a shoe-box diorama that you’d make in elementary school, well maybe not you, but that genius kid who sits next to you who either did it herself or got her professional artist parent to do it for her. Anyways, it’s easily the best animated film I’ve ever seen. Add in an easily enjoyable animal-rebellion plot and a batch of wonderful characters (Schwartzman and the animation team simply nailed adolescent angst in the character of Ash) and you have, in my opinion, Anderson’s best film to date.

Memorable quote: “If what I think is happening, IS happening… It better not be.” – Mrs. Fox

What say you? Let me know in the comments, I’d love to hear your feedback!

TOP 10: Best Opening Credits/Sequences

A great opening scene and/or credits sequence gets you engaged in a film right off the bat. Here are 10 that really stood out for me (click on the title if you’d like to read my mini-review of the film as a whole):

Honourable Mention: Runaway Bride (1999)

10. Sausage Party (2016)

A hilarious, unique beginning that encapsulates the humour of the film before most of it gets done to death by the film’s end: The groan-worthy links between different foods and cultural stereotypes, the course language (made funnier here thanks to its context–the uppity melodies and orchestral music), the blatant irony (“we’re sure there’s nothing… ). A fantastic comedic opening.

9. Deadpool (2015)

I laughed out loud when I first saw the words “God’s Perfect Idiot” come up on screen, shortly followed by a People magazine cover with Ryan Reynolds on the front… it was a hilarious surprise to kick off the self-deprecating credits to follow. And while the humour wore off a bit by the end (thanks in part to it no longer being unexpected), it shouldn’t take away from what was actually a very cool aesthetic for the sequence: The slow-motion swirling camerawork making its way out of a ridiculous action freeze-frame. There’s people in mid-air, a car upside-down, blood, wedgies, bullets, and a sappy folk ballad called “Angel of the Morning”. Give it a watch, it’s a memorable combination.

8. Wristcutters: A Love Story (2006)

A mundane montage of a young man cleaning his apartment, all from the exact same camera angle and distance. Then the man is gone, and the camera suddenly starts creeping towards the bathroom, sending chills up your spine, and what you find suddenly justifies to a horrifying extent the slow creep of Tom Waits’ “Dead and Lovely” that had been playing this whole time… A surprising voice-over narration that follows completes the set-up for this unique dark comedy.

7. The Truman Show (1998)

First off, I love when movies start with someone talking right away. Just demands your attention from the very first second! In this case, a unique documentary-style series of interview clips kicks things off, with the actors of the film playing actors of a “reality” TV show that is someone else’s life. Interspersed with these clips are mock credits keeping in line with the actual Truman Show and a captivating clip of Truman himself–played by Jim Carrey–unknowingly talking directly to the camera, giving himself a pep talk in the bathroom. The beautiful piano-led score on top of it all adds a grand feel to it all.

6. Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

(Above isn’t the full credits sequence, I wasn’t able to embed that video, but here’s a link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JNlnQwHWSYw)

Starts off as a typical sci-fi would–a shady looking character, exploring some wasteland of a planet somewhere in the galaxy. Dramatic stringed music adds to the serious-y tone as the credits appear in an orderly fashion. And then the music stops, and our character takes off his mask and presses play on a Walkman, and with the opening bars of a groovy retro jam and a couple hip gyrations from our lead, the mood changes drastically and fantastically! Chris Pratt using a gross looking little monster thing as a mic to lip-sync into was one particular highlight from then on.

5. A Clockwork Orange (1971)

A sinister synth and a brief set of credits over top of in-your-face primary-coloured backgrounds opens this one. Then a face, looking equally sinister as he stares straight through your television into your soul. Then the camera slowly pans out, the face never looking away and-what the fuck is this place? People drinking milk. Female mannequins all over, placed in sexual positions. Then someone starts narrating, in a sly, mellow British voice, and you know he’s speaking English but you can’t understand half the terms he’s using but he says something about ultra-violence and you’re feeling kind of uncomfortable but you can’t help but keep watching…

4. Magnolia (1999)

A slightly chilling repeated chorus by Aimee Mann gives this series of character introductions a perpetually building and important feel through the course of its 7 minutes, making it almost seem like a mini short film in itself. Startling camera zooms and uniquely fluid scene transitions add further artistic flair. And course, we are treated at the end to one of John C. Rielly’s character’s oh-so-endearing monologues, left hanging when the music stops and the screen goes to black.

3. Little Miss Sunshine (2006)

The above video skips the great opening shot of Olive staring at the camera, a TV reflected in her glasses, so you’ll just have to imagine it if you haven’t already seen it. 🙂

Anyways, one of my favourite intros, for sure. I love how it subtly introduces each character of the family, each in a different setting, with each clip showing one important aspect of their personality. And that mellow music from Devotchka that you can’t really pin down as happy or sad is a perfect backing track for an opening sequence to this indie classic equal parts comedy and drama.

2. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 (2011)

Just the perfect opening for this final Harry Potter film. After a brief reminder of what happened last in the previous installment, the classic Warner Bros. logo in the clouds pops up, but this time accompanied by a haunting, mournful choral voice. Then we’re back at Hogwarts, looking gloomier than ever, with the sinister Dementors floating around it. Then three stunning shots of none other than Severus Snape, played to greatness by the late Alan Rickman. The close-up of his face–cold, yet almost mournful, and most certainly tortured–gives me chills every time, especially knowing from the final book the complex emotional background to the character that was only starting to come through in the movies at this point. With a gorgeous swelling of strings, the scene cuts and the title appears, completing a beautifully melancholy opening for the final Harry Potter film.

1.The Shining (1980)

Breathtaking panoramic camerawork swoops in and out, following a car driving through the mountains; add in an ominous minimal score and you’re left with an overwhelming sense of dread and foreboding… and rightly so, given the story to follow! Even the simple credits with their quick upward scroll, basic font and unique mint colour seem to add a weird chill to the whole thing. Similar to much of the film to follow, nothing out of the ordinary happens, but an incredible and creepy atmosphere is created nonetheless thanks to some marvelous music and cinematography.

Let me know what you thought of my list in the comments! Disagree with any of my choices? What are some of your most memorable film openings?

TOP 10: Most Underrated Films

Films here are ranked based upon the difference between my personal 100-point score and the lower 100-point score on IMDb. From what I’ve experienced, a film’s rating on IMDb more or less seems to reflect the popular opinion held by both the casual and the serious film critics that I’ve read or listened to.

 The criteria:

  1. Must be rated higher than 7.5 by me. 7.5 is the minimum score that earns a “Great” designation from me. If I don’t consider a film “great”, I could hardly deem it underrated!
  2. Must be rated lower than 7.5 on IMDb. Conversely, anything rated higher than 7.5 on IMDb isn’t rated low enough for me to consider it underrated.

Without further ado, my Top 10 Underrated Films:

10. The Informant (2009)

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IMDb rating: 6.5
My rating: 7.6 (review here)
Rating difference: 1.1

I haven’t seen close to all of Matt Damon’s films, but of the ones I have seen, this has got to be my favourite performance of his. The awkwardness, the excitability, the defensiveness, the habitual lying; Mark Whitacre is a fascinating character played to perfection by Damon in this zany corporate comedy with a great deadpan sense of humour and quirky editing a la director Steve Soderbergh’s Ocean’s films. Give it a try!

9. Enemy (2013)

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IMDb rating: 6.9
My rating: 8.2 (review here)
Rating difference: 1.3

I’ll be the first to admit that I didn’t understand a lot of this brain-bending film’s imagery and plot twists until I googled it afterwards, but that didn’t stop me from being completely entranced throughout, thanks to incredible direction that grabs a hold of the central plot motif (a man spots his doppelganger as an extra in a movie) and goes on to create such an incredibly unrelenting and uneasy atmosphere. It’ll send shivers up your spine, no doubt, and Gyllenhaal is fantastic, as always.

8. One Hour Photo (2002)

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IMDb rating: 6.8
My rating: 8.3 (review here)
Rating difference: 1.5

Speaking of shivers down your spine, Williams’ brilliant performance in this film as the sad but scary stalker Sy is sure to give you some! The direction is equally superb, with plenty of thoughtfully framed close-ups and thrilling tracking shots to go with a great soundtrack. A memorable horror-thriller you shouldn’t miss, especially if you’re into stalker/psycho flicks.

7. Your Sister’s Sister (2012)

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IMDb rating: 6.7
My rating: 8.2 (review here)
Rating difference: 1.5

This low-budget indie drama was a breath of fresh air. Right from the get-go, I couldn’t help but be amazed by the dialogue (largely improvised, from what I’ve read)–it was more than scripted words, it was natural conversation. This contributed to incredible characterization and a refreshingly natural feel that fit perfectly within the limited cabin/outdoors setting and down-to-earth plot about love and relationships.

6. Compliance (2012)

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IMDb rating: 6.4
My rating: 8.0 (review here)
Rating difference: 1.6

Perfectly nails the slow-build of tension and horror that every great thriller does, sucking you in as the insanity slowly builds to the point where you, the viewer, can barely watch anymore, but unbeknownst for most of the movie to its own characters under the pressure of a manipulative authority. A terrifying, well-made indie whose scares are rooted in its realistic setting (indeed, this was based off a true story) and perfectly crafted script.

5. Jeff, Who Lives at Home (2011)

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IMDb rating: 6.5
My rating: 8.1 (review here)
Rating difference: 1.6

Maybe I just like indie flicks more than the average person. But the characters are just so relatable here-flawed, imperfect, searching for meaning in life. Jason Segel’s earnest teddy bear of a guy is endearing beyond belief. Great, natural performances, a down-to-earth one-day timeline (I’m a sucker for those), and a climax that had me bawling happy tears.

4. The Place Beyond the Pines (2012)

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IMDb rating: 7.3
My rating: 8.9 (review here)
Rating difference: 1.6

I’ve heard this film being criticized as contrived for its coincidental connections between characters, but I still couldn’t help but be completely compelled throughout and would instead deem it as a masterfully crafted three-part crime/family drama that hits you like a ton of bricks with each plot twist. It’s epic, it’s beautiful, it’s heartbreaking, and really manages to capture the impact each choice we make in our lives can have. Almost Shakespearean in its portrayal of family and tragedy. Amazing performances up and down the cast, good music, and lovely cinematography are in there too. Watch it!

3. Batman: The Movie (1966)

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IMDb rating: 6.5
My rating: 8.3 (review here)
Rating difference: 1.8

I guess some people just didn’t get that the campyness here was completely and brilliantly intentional. But to me, with how literally every scene is just dripping with ridiculousness, it’s quite clear, and quite hilarious. Seriously, this might be the funniest movie I’ve ever seen. If your sense of humour permits, every scene will have you in stitches!

2. The Company You Keep (2012)

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IMDb rating: 6.4
My rating: 8.2 (review here)
Rating difference: 1.8

A refreshing thriller light on action, heavy on intrigue: An investigative journalist, a web of fugitives now all living under different names; questions are asked, secrets are uncovered, people are found, people escape. Perfectly paced, with a stacked cast and great cinematography. I was captivated the entire time, give it a go if you’re in the mood for a journalism-based thriller a la Spotlight!

1. The Spectacular Now (2013)

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IMDb rating: 7.1
My rating: 8.9 (review here)
Rating difference: 1.8

On the surface, it may look and sound like a typical teen romance with some inspirational cheese thrown in there, but that couldn’t be any farther from the truth. It’s raw, real, and just as–if not more–tragic than it is heartwarming. The main characters are flawed and complex, and so is their resulting relationship. To top it all off, it doesn’t have a tied-in-a-bow, grand-final-kiss happy ending, which fits the rest of the flick to a tee. You won’t be disappointed by this one!

Thanks for reading! What are some of your underrated gems?

TOP 10: Most Overrated Films

Films here are ranked based upon the difference between my personal 100-point score and the higher 100-point score on IMDb. From what I’ve experienced, a film’s rating on IMDb more or less seems to reflect the popular opinion held by both the casual and the serious film critics that I’ve read or listened to. The criteria:

  1. Must be rated lower than 7.5 by me. 7.5 is the minimum score that earns a “Great” designation from me. If I consider a film “great”, I could hardly deem it overrated!
  2. Must be rated higher than 7.5 on IMDb. Conversely, anything rated less than 7.5 on IMDb isn’t rated high enough for me to consider it overrated.

Without further ado, my Top 10 Overrated Films:

10. Blazing Saddles (1974)

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IMDb rating: 7.8
My rating: 6.5
Rating difference: 1.3 (review here)

The mix of racial, Western, and Hollywood satire is appreciably biting and bold, and Little and Wilder are both excellent, but too many jokes fall flat or feel cheap for this to be considered a great instead of just good comedy.

9. Predator (1987)

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IMDb rating: 7.8
My rating: 6.4 (review here)
Rating difference: 1.4

If the whole movie had been Arnold alone in his battle of wits with the Predator, I would have rated this movie higher. Unfortunately, the first half or so is riddled with eye-rolling dialogue and features one particularly brain-numbing shoot-em-up. Good popcorn flick, but nothing more.

8. The Untouchables (1987)

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IMDb rating: 7.9
My rating: 6.3 (review here)
Rating difference: 1.6

A gangster/cop flick with Robert De Niro? That usually works out, doesn’t it? Unfortunately, though De Niro was decent, I was majorly disappointed by this one. The writing was awfully messy and the acting leagues below what you would expect from the rest of the seasoned cast. A nice score and set and a few good scenes saved this one from being just plain bad.

7. Big Hero 6 (2014)

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IMDb rating: 7.9
My rating: 6.1 (review here)
Rating difference: 1.8

I was expecting big things from this animated flick, but a good chunk of it sorely let me down. Baymax the robot was a fun and unique character, and the tragic child prodigy Hiro had potential-but the latter’s development was cheap and rushed, and the supporting cast of characters was largely unfunny and lazily written. The story, meanwhile, was predictable and rushed. A nice-looking film with some cool surface elements but a forgettable story.

6. Forbidden Planet (1956)

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IMDb rating: 7.7
My rating: 5.9 (review here)
Rating difference: 1.8

Not sure why this gets elevated above other campy 50s sci-fi flicks. There’s an intriguing psychology-related thesis at the end, but it betrays the rest of the movie that either preoccupies itself with dumb romance or goes on and on about the future technology it invented.

5. Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back

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IMDb rating: 8.8
My rating: 7.0 (review here)
Rating difference: 1.8

Gonna get a lot of flack for this choice, I’m sure… I thoroughly enjoyed the first one (that is, the fourth one… well, you know what I mean), in large part due to the memorable batch of characters that played off each other so well. In this one, most of them started to feel a little “been there, done that” in the way that often happens in sequels. None of them were really developed any further, aside from Luke and his father, of course! All in all, it was still a good film (good action, an exciting climax and twist, and a cliff-hanger ending), but in my humble opinion, not the masterpiece so many people seem to classify it as.

4. Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi (1983)

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IMDb rating: 8.4
My rating: 6.4 (review here)
Rating difference: 2.0

Oops, another Star Wars film! It starts off well as the ol’ gang gets back together, but the campyness really takes off from there as they team up with the jabbering fuzz-ball Ewoks against the Dark Side. And the big confrontation between Luke and Vader/the Emperor that had been built up so much by Yoda’s warnings against the lure of the Dark Side and the big twist from the last episode was a huge letdown that had little impact on me. The Emperor taunts Luke to get him angry. Vader says it’s useless to resist. Luke screams that he won’t fight Vader, but then occasionally fights Vader. Annnnd repeat.

3. The Sweet Hereafter (1997)

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IMDb rating: 7.7
My rating: 5.7 (review here)
Rating difference: 2.0

Maybe I just didn’t get it. The build-up to the school bus crash you know is going to happen is certainly torturous and well-done. The snowy scenery is nice. Everything else? Didn’t know what to make of it. Confusing characters and bewildering happenings made this ultimately a chore to get through.

2. Dazed and Confused (1993)

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IMDb rating: 7.7
My rating: 5.6 (review here)
Rating difference: 2.1

Good music, fun 70s setting… but mostly just boring, quite frankly. It’s not that I’m against Linklater’s meandering, plot-less style, because I quite enjoyed his later Boyhood. But there are very few engaging characters to really latch onto here, and even less engaging events. A disappointingly dull offering. Don’t think I’ll be rushing to see Everybody Wants Some!!

1. Batman (1989)

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IMDb rating: 7.6
My rating: 5.3 (review here)
Rating difference: 2.3

Maybe it was just because I watched it right after I finished Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy (which I thoroughly enjoyed), but I found this installment to be laughably bad. Campy, cartoony, and awkwardly scripted. I’ve heard people say they thought Keaton was excellent here, but I found him to be about as engaging as a board of wood. Nicholson was the opposite in his over-the-top performance that was more annoying than terrifying or funny.

 

Have at it in the comments–have you now completely written me off as a trustworthy film reviewer? Where have I gone wrong? Do you agree with any of these choices? Thanks for reading!