Years ago, I was watching the mystery thriller 8MM, in which Nicolas Cage plays surveillance expert Tom Welles. He is hired to determine the origin of an apparent snuff film. During the investigation, he pays an adult video store clerk, Max (Joaquin Phoenix), to navigate him through the world of extreme porn. Eventually they are lead to the main villain of the film, Dino Velvet, who Max describes as “a producer-slash-director-slash weirdo. He’s like the Jim Jarmusch of S&M.” Being a modest fan of filmmaker Jim Jarmusch, and not particularly a fan of Joel Schumacher who directed 8MM, I took offense to the characterization. What’s worse is that Velvet’s murderous henchman goes by the moniker “Machine.” Why is this an issue? Well, in Jarmusch’s film Dead Man, Johnny Depp‘s character, William Blake, travels to the Old West industrial town of Machine. Coincidence? Maybe, but also during 8MM, Welles is required to go to Cleveland, Ohio. Blake is from Cleveland in Dead Man!
Dead Man (1995) Official Trailer - Johnny Depp Movie HD - YouTube
Wait, let’s back up. Maybe those are just superficial similarities. On a deeper level, it could be said that both films are about a man on a journey in which he is over his head. In the case of Dead Man, Blake sets out west for an accounting job. When he arrives in Machine, he is told that the position has already been filled. He later meets a woman and spends the night with her, after which her fiance walks in on the pair. Shots are fired, leaving Blake with a chest wound. The woman’s fiance kills her and Blake kills him. Soon afterward, Blake finds himself being pursued by three hired guns. A worldly, philosophical Native American named Nobody finds Blake and guides him on a spiritual quest. On the way, Blake kills multiple individuals, garnering a reputation. Throughout the journey it is implied that Blake is already dead, and the film ends with him drifting off in a canoe to the spiritual realm. Welles, too, goes on a quest to find a missing girl who appears to be murdered in a snuff film. His guide is the aforementioned Max, who knows a great deal about the underground porn scene in Hollywood. Welles digs deeper and deeper into depravity until he meets Velvet and “Machine.” He discovers that the missing girl was actually murdered. Though he takes revenge against the perpetrators, he is left with no satisfying answers as to why human beings would do something so despicable. The film ends with him reading a letter from the girl’s mother thanking him for solving the crime.
8MM 1999 Trailer HD | Nicolas Cage | Joaquin Phoenix - YouTube
It would appear that Welles has the more hopeful ending of the two, even though he is emotionally devastated by his ordeal. Blake is dead, or at least dying. Then again, Blake actually seems to grow in a more positive manner than Welles, and maybe the afterlife holds something pleasant for him.
It was the year of Monica Lewinsky and the Unabomber trial, of the founding of Google and a peace deal in Northern Ireland. In the realm of film, the movie that would win Best Picture was Shakespeare in Love, but that one doesn’t quite crack the Flickchart Top 10. After 20 years of reflection, some then-unknown movies have risen in profile, while some heavy-hitters like our #1 have retained a prominent place in the popular consciousness.
Let’s look at what the users of Flickchart collectively think are the 10 best films of 1998:
By rights, Perfect Blue shouldn’t make a top 10 list that’s based on sheer popularity. It’s a niche movie in a niche genre: an anime, but an adult one, not as glossy or bubbly as most. It’s rough, violent, and risque. But the people who have seen it, the cineastes and the Japanophiles exploring on a higher plane, love it enough that their rankings carry it into the Flickchart Top 10 for 1998. Apart from its obvious artistic and narrative qualities, the movie has a rarefied aura due to being one of only four features that its idiosyncratic creator Satoshi Kon made before passing away at the far-too-young age of 46.
Perfect Blue is about a Japanese pop singer who leaves her moderately-successful band to start a television career. Unfortunately, she has a stalker who operates a vintage 1990s-style website dedicated to her. The agents and screenwriters in the actress’s life begin mysteriously dying in disturbing ways, and things go downhill from there. The protagonist has an increasingly hard time separating real life from the parts she is playing, and from the idealized version of herself that the stalker worships. The layers of artifice and narrative-within-narrative in this movie put the likes of Christopher Nolan’s Inception to shame, but always feel like natural progressions of theme and character. The movie is at times grotesque and disturbing, but in a way that feels authentic and human and non-exploitative, terms not usually associated with pop diva career arcs. Perfect Blue is a mindbendingpsychological thriller par excellence whose quality transcends the boxes we imagine around its medium. – David Conrad
“We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold.”
With those wild words, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, based on Hunter Thompson’s cult book, kicks off in loony fashion across the desert. But as much as the movie in its early minutes might resemble a cartoon from Terry Gilliam, the movie is actually something of a funeral mass for the 60s as the characters make their way from the broken promises of California to the repression of 70s Nevada and a law enforcement convention. There isn’t really a plot, or any suggestion that the filmmakers had any knowledge what a plot would look like, but along the way the protagonists encounter all manner of madness from literal lounge lizards to Gary Busey and Mark Harmon, each of which captures the artificial scuzziness of Las Vegas. (It could have been worse, of course; they could have missed the exit for Las Vegas and ended up in Utah.) There’s always danger, like the risk of encountering one’s older self or the fear of learning what exactly happens beyond the men’s room door, but none of it is quite as weird as an incident told in Hunter Thompson’s book Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail 1972 wherein he is recruited by Pat Buchanan to talk football with then-candidate Richard Nixon. That deserves its own movie.
This warped vision of 1971 owes a lot to Terry Gilliam’s madcap vision and directorial skill, but it is also worth mentioning that Alex Cox (Sid & Nancy, Repo Man) was originally supposed to direct this. (Supposedly, Alex Cox retaining co-screenwriting credit seriously got under Gilliam’s skin.) Cox — an Englishman who came to America as opposed to Gilliam, an American who went to England — is prone to his own flights of filmmaking fantasy but is a more overtly political filmmaker than Gilliam, so his vision for this bit of surreal Americana would have been different. But Gilliam successfully walks a tightrope of his own inimitable design to capture something of the feel of Thompson’s mad memoir. – Walter J. Montie
“God does not play dice with the universe” – Albert Einstein
Okay, so Krzysztof Kieslowski did it first with the whole “exploring multiple outcomes of a single incident” thing in his 1987 film Blind Chance, which explores three possible timelines that vary after a character tries to catch a train.
But what Tom Tykwer (whose films are simultaneously underappreciated and frustrating) does in his breakout 1998 film “Run Lola Run” is inject this premise with a shot of adrenaline and triple espresso in order to tell the story of Lola (Franka Potente) who has 20 minutes and three chances to save her boyfriend Manni (Moritz Bleibtreu) by coming up with the money to save him. The entire movie is a whirlwind 80 minutes, which might somehow be shorter than the techno soundtrack that accompanies the action. A variety of formats are used, including animation, and each segment is markedly different. Lola’s trajectory is affected by obstacles along the way, each of which causes the story to take a different path and eventually reach a different outcome. It’s nothing deeper than that, but it sure is fun while it lasts. – Walter
In the late 1990s, in the midst of a golden age of special-effects-driven genre films, an odd epiphenomenon started to take place around the edges of science fiction and horror. A crop of films emerged that told stories of white men slowly and dramatically discovering that the world that we experience with our senses is a lie, a high-tech charade orchestrated by inconceivable forces, toward ends that are simultaneously horrifying and banal. The pervasive sense of powerlessness in the culture was articulated in these films like The Thirteenth Floor, eXistenZ, The Game, and of course The Matrix. But before The Matrix poured crates of bullets into those black-and-white checkered sets, another film would make use of them to play out the most artistically ambitious of this school of anti-existentialist movies. Dark City combines expressionist Dick-Tracy-noir style with Kafka-esque sadomasochism, somehow also invoking an Eastern European elemental dread a la Nosferatu, in order to tell what is ultimately a tender and pathetic story of the powerful frailty of the human soul. The film (especially the director’s cut) forces us to walk every cruel, confusing step alongside our doe-eyed messiah-to-be as he navigates two thousand years of philosophical thought to finally arrive at the same conclusion as He-Man and all our other messiahs: “I have the power.” The film is wildly ambitious, too ambitious for the audiences of its day, but the unaffected honesty of the performances (except for Kiefer Sutherland, who leans too heavily on a quirky speech pattern) played against the haunting dark-steampunk surrealism of its world is unmistakably arresting. The visual design will keep you glued to the screen, but the points it’s used to make will continue to make this film stand out as a timeless example of an era of thoughtfully-paranoid speculative fiction. – Doug van Hollen
When I first saw Rushmore while in college in the early 2000s, it was unlike anything I’d seen before. Its style and sensibility were new to me, and I fell in love with it, buying it on VHS and watching it over and over. I didn’t realize at the time that it was also the cinematic introduction of the Wes Anderson style and sensibility. It was not Anderson’s first feature, yet it is this sophomore effort that set the tone for the director’s career. The film features several stage productions by its protagonist Max (an auspicious debut by a teenage Jason Schwartzman), and created a foundation for the stageplay-like framing and narrative structure that Anderson would continue to perfect over the next two decades. Rushmore also features my favorite Bill Murray performance (outside of maybe Groundhog Day), a precursor to his later great dramatic work in indie films such as Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation and Jim Jarmusch’s Broken Flowers. Co-written by Anderson and his frequent collaborator Owen Wilson, and featuring affecting performances by Olivia Williams and Seymour Cassel, Rushmore remains one of Anderson’s best films. – Tom Kapr
As much as Guy Ritchie’s career might have floundered, disappointed, confounded, and on occasion pleased in the last two decades, it might surprise some how much his debut film Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels came out of almost nowhere and was a breath of fresh air. Its cheeky, stylish, and violent humor made stars out of Jason Statham and Vinnie Jones (alas, not so much for Jason Flemyng), who are here part of a group of low-level and colorful criminals in the British underground who have far more ambition than brains. They get in way over their heads with some not very nice people with violent tendencies (a friend of mine from England had to explain the Cockney rhyming slang for me.) What sets this apart from other crime movies of its ilk is Ritchie’s ability to handle the complicated plot structure of four separate gangs gunning for each other and the loot, keeping the plates spinning throughout. It’s something of a shame that even the success of later films like Sherlock Holmes and The Man from Uncle has not brought Ritchie again to this level of complexity or depth. – Walter
Jim Carrey in the 90s was a zany force to be reckoned with, from his impossibly-stretchy facial expressions to his over-the-top vocal gymnastics. And then he started taking roles that required him to tone it down. The Truman Show sits in the middle between something like Dumb and Dumber and his most dramatic role in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Truman is a little goofy, a little playful, but there are real stakes here, and Carrey succeeds in making us feel them even amid his jokey persona. The film owes a lot of its successful atmosphere to the incredibly compelling score by modern classical composer Philip Glass, who takes what could have been a silly little film and adds a sense of larger mythos to it. And the script is beautiful. It builds this unusual world in such a fascinating way and unrolls the plot at such a perfect pace that we’re never either lost behind Truman or bored waiting for him to catch up to us. The final scene brings all these elements together, along with a stellar performance from Ed Harris and some gorgeous visuals, to create one of the most oddly inspirational endings I have ever seen. It’s a lovely movie that well deserves its spot in our top ten. – Hannah Keefer
Stark, brutal, and violent, American History X was shocking and thought-provoking upon release. From its infamous curb stomp scene to the detailed time spent with Neo-Nazis and white nationalist, this film isn’t easy to watch. But force yourself to look at it and you will find a stark examination of what evil means, if it can truly be said to exist. While never quite sympathizing with Ed Norton’s character, the film does have a nuanced take on what drives people into racist ideologies and the socioeconomic conditions that can warp into a person’s psyche and come to dominate them. Norton’s powerful performance makes his ascendance from the white nationalist mindset work despite everything going against him as he learns to recognize his hate, where it took him, and where it was taking others. Mixing in black and white with color photography, American History X remains poignant and powerful today. – Connor Adamson
This movie has a lot of ins, a lot of outs, and a lot of what have yous. The Coen brothers’ cult classic lives on twenty years later as one of the most beloved comedies in cinema. Despite initial critical and box office disappointment, The Big Lebowski has more than won people over with its massive collection of quotable lines, fantastic performances from a diverse cast, and an eclectic yet killer soundtrack. Jeff Bridges’ The Dude has inspired a religion based on the character’s own post-hippie philosophy while John Goodman and Steve Buscemi make for more than colorful companions. Shot beautifully, this comedy may or may not have a larger meaning, the very idea of which is teased by an enigmatic turn from Sam Elliot as the Stranger. Though the Coens have pledged never to do a sequel, Jon Turturro recently filmed a spin-off starring his character “Jesus” meaning that some element of the film will carry forward. Either way, The Dude abides. – Connor
Saving Private Ryan was a rarity in the 90s: an R-rated blockbuster. And not a soft R, either – many industry watchers in 1998 felt that Spielberg‘s latest war film actually deserved an NC-17 rating for its extremely graphic violence, which would have made it practically unshowable in most theaters in the country. Instead it skated by with an R and a strong warning from studio that “We do not want children wandering in,” and grossed half a billion dollars in ticket sales. In comparison, 2016’s Hacksaw Ridge made less than half of that, and 2006’s Flags of Our Fathers made less than half of that. Saving Private Ryan was THE war movie phenomenon of the..
In First Reformed, Ethan Hawke plays Reverend Toller, a former military chaplain who presides over the historical landmark church of the title. He is divorced, suffers from a potentially fatal medical problem, and mourns his son who died in the Iraq war. First Reformed, which draws more tourists than parishioners, is supported by a larger church nearby. Toller performs his mostly mundane daily duties while cutting himself off from participation in the outside world. This changes, however, when one of Toller’s flock, Mary (Amanda Seyfried), asks him to counsel her radical environmentalist husband who believes the Earth is heading toward imminent disaster. The husband commits suicide not long afterward, which causes Toller to become increasingly eco-conscious. He begins questioning whether God would approve of humankind’s stewardship of His Creation.
First Reformed | Official Trailer HD | A24 - YouTube
Ingmar Bergman’s Winter Light is similarly set up, but in this case the pastor of the church, Tomas Ericsson, has to counsel a man who is fearful that the Chinese are going to plunge the world into a nuclear holocaust (the film came out during the Cold War). Ericsson’s wife has recently passed away, leaving him empty and questioning the existence of God; this is similar to Toller’s loss of a son. Where the two films diverge significantly, though, is that Toller develops a relationship with the widow of the man who killed himself, while Ericsson does not. In both films, the clergymen had an affair with a doting woman whom they grew to dislike. Ericsson spends a great deal more time with the woman, Märta, than Toller does with her counterpart in First Reformed, Esther. Märta has a monologue in Light that goes into considerable detail about the nature of her relationship with Ericsson. Later in the film, he, in turn, goes into some detail as to why he can no longer tolerate her. In First Reformed Esther doesn’t get much screen time, and the younger Mary turns out to be much more important in the film.
Winter Light (1962) Theatrical Trailer - YouTube
At the end of Light, Ericsson stands before an empty church, save for Märta, reciting a prayer he doesn’t believe in. His deceased wife is all that mattered to him, and his emptiness is inconsolable. Toller, on the other hand, adopts the extremist views of Mary’s husband to fill the hole inside himself. He finds out that one of the men who donates to the church is the owner of a company known to be a heavy polluter. Toller decides to suicide-bomb the First Reformed church during its 250th anniversary celebration, at which the culprit will be in attendance. Toller takes a similar path as Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver, for which Paul Schrader, the director of Reformed, wrote the screenplay. Instead of a shooting spree to rescue an underage prostitute, Toller is out to save the Earth itself. His plot is thwarted, though, when Mary unexpectedly shows up at the celebration. He doesn’t want her to be injured in the explosion, so instead he wraps himself in barbed wire and opts for suicide by drinking Drano. The movie comes to a perplexing conclusion at that point. Paul Schrader says in this Slate interview that the ending is intended to be up in the air, and that he doesn’t have an answer as to what it means.
(NOTE: Winter Light is part of the “Silence of God” trilogy, of which Through a Glass Darkly and The Silence are also a part.)
For today’s matchup, we have A Short Film About Love directed by Krzysztof Kieślowski and Onibaba directed by Kaneto Shindo. Both films deal with lust and desperation.
ONIBABA Original Theatrical Trailer (Masters of Cinema) - YouTube
Set in medieval Japan, Onibaba (1964) tells the story of a widowed young woman and her mother-in-law. The country is in the middle of a civil war which brings scattered skirmishes to their secluded hut hidden amidst susuki grass. The pair prey upon the stray and wounded soldiers, killing them and trading their armaments for millet. Bodies are disposed of in a deep, dark hole. The arrival of Hachi, a deserter from the war who lives nearby, threatens their shady operation. Hachi and the widow strike up a lustful affair, leaving the mother-in-law fearing that they will abandon her to fend for herself.
The title Onibaba refers to an old woman in Japanese folklore who transforms into an evil hag after succumbing to intense jealousy or hatred (Kijo is the young woman version). The mother-in-law suffers from both: jealousy because Hachi rejects her advances, and hatred because her daughter-in-law may leave her alone to starve. Sex for the mother-in-law is about survival. Desperate to break up the lovers, she devises a plan after murdering a samurai (by luring him into the hole) and stealing his demon mask. Each night she dons the mask and pretends to be a monster in order to frighten her daughter-in-law away from Hachi’s hut. This works until the mask becomes stuck on her face as punishment for her wicked ways.
The Polish film A Short Film About Love (1988) originally aired as a segment in the ten part television series, Dekalog, which loosely examined the Ten Commandments. Love was later expanded to feature length and given a more hopeful ending. The main character, Tomek, is a nineteen-year-old postal clerk who spies on his neighbor, Magda, an older woman living in the same apartment complex. He has gradually fallen in love with Magda and engages in a number of tactics to get closer to her. Magda, however, is more worldly than Tomek, and doesn’t understand his relatively innocent (if stalkerishly-expressed) feelings for her. In her jaded outlook, love does not exist; only sex.
Tomek does some creepy things in order to meet Magda, from tampering with her mail to posing as a milkman. His intentions, however, are not portrayed by the film as malevolent. Rather, his love for Magda is contrasted to her life of empty hook-ups. She is not necessarily more moral than he is. When Magda agrees to go out with Tomek after he comes clean about his machinations, Tomek is given the opportunity to consummate his love for her. But he performs awkwardly. Magda belittles him, which leads to Tomek attempting suicide. Realizing the error of her ways, and experiencing remorse, Magda becomes obsessed with Tomek. She begins to see through his eyes.
The director of The Exorcist, William Friedkin, called Onibaba “one of the most terrifying films I’ve ever seen.” While it can be viewed as an erotic horror film, it can also be seen as an allegory for war and/or capitalism. Shindo, who has called himself a socialist, said of the film
Speaking about Onibaba in particular, my main historical interest focuses on ordinary people . . . their energy to carry themselves beyond the predicaments they encounter daily. I wish to describe the struggles of the so-called common people, which usually never appear in recorded history. This is why I made Onibaba. My mind was always on the commoners, not on the lords, politicians, or anyone of name and fame. I wanted to convey the lives of down-to-earth people who have to live like weeds.
With its avant-garde score and camera work, Onibaba is an aesthetic experience in addition to whatever deeper meaning it may have. A Short Film About Love is not as radical by comparison. Not to say it is a straightforward love story; as this Culture.pl article puts it, “Kieślowski did not create a banal paean to love but by complicating relations between the protagonists he authorized different interpretations.” Both Onibaba and Love end ambiguously.
Ryan Coogler‘s Creed had no right to be as good as it was. After all, it was sequel to the Rocky series made years later about a spin-off character. It could have been a recipe for disaster, or at the very least, mediocrity. But Coogler proved that good writing and direction could make the film worth caring about and blazed the trail for a whole spin-off series. Creed II returns with a now boxing champion Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan) being challenged by the son of the man who killed his father, Ivan Drago. Despite being without Coogler at the directorial helm, Creed II delivers another solid boxing film that, even with a predictable character arc and story, still has the proper doses of ethos, nostalgia, and boxing action to be a solid film.
Steven Caple Jr. sits on the director’s chair this time, this being only his second feature. Unfortunately, there is a noticeable difference in the quality of direction. Creed remained visually dynamic throughout and culminates in that memorable one-take boxing fight. Without Coogler, this film is never quite as interesting to look at and has nothing on the level of the one-take fight. Still, Caple Jr. does a decent enough job with the flow of the film and offers a striking shot near the end involving Rocky himself.
The acting remains solid in this outing as well. Michael B. Jordan is no longer a surprise, having made a name as a talented and dynamic actor. He seems even more settled in the role of Creed, and manages to portray his brokenness in certain scenes without being melodramatic. Sylvester Stallone returns as Rocky in a reduced but still powerful role. The relationship between Creed and Rocky is still compelling and a good source of drama when it needs to be, but Rocky is much more of a supporting character here than in the first. Tessa Thompson (whose career, like Jordan’s, has grown by leaps and bounds since the first film) returns as Bianca, who becomes Adonis’s finance in this entry.
The structure of the film makes predicting its events an easy task. There are some nice arcs on the themes of parenthood and legacy that make for touching moments, and there is even some unexpected sympathy elicited for Ivan and Viktor. Dolph Lundgren returns as Ivan, which is neat, but if future sequels continue to religiously adhere to the past Rocky films, it might limit their possibilities.
Despite the lack of surprises, Creed II continues this latter-day return to form for the Rocky franchise. With a willingness to take the story in different directions, the series might continue to excel. It should be interesting to see where Creed and his family, including Rocky, go from here. Even the Dragos could see their stories continue. With its themes of family, Creed II is worth seeing this holiday season.
With 40 films on Flickchart spanning 22 years, Scarlett Johansson has been in a wide range of films of varying popularity. While probably most recognized for her role as Black Widow in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, she has played many other characters in roles big and small. She has made her mark in the film industry and still has many films ahead of her. In celebration of her birthday today, let’s count down her Top 10 films. But first…
“My name is Major Mira Killian, and I give my consent.”
2017‘s Ghost in the Shell resides in the bottom 1/4 of Scarlett’s Flickchart. Still, it remains one of my favorites of hers that’s not listed below. She portrays Major Mira Killian, a cyborg in counter-terrorism unit Section 9, working a case that begins her journey to learn more about her past. While it is based on a manga from Japan, this story differs in its direction and conclusion. This is perhaps Johansson’s most notorious role, as some have accused the film of whitewashing her character. The film is visually gorgeous, however, and can be appreciated apart from the manga and anime film that came before.
“I’ll go to your room, but you’ll have to seduce me.”
Having done three films with Woody Allen, Vicky Cristina Barcelona is the third and most recent of them. In this romantic drama, Scarlett plays Cristina. Together with her friend Vicky (Rebecca Hall), they visit Barcelona and meet artist Juan Antonia (Javier Bardem). He displays sexual interest in both of them while still being emotionally attached to his ex-wife. Johansson plays flirtatious and spontaneous as her character searches for what she wants in life.
Distributed by A24, Under the Skin is just what you might expect from the popular independent film company. Narratively, the film doesn’t give you a lot to go on, as it is much more of a visual experience. And as such, Scarlett carries the film and helps maintain the unsettling atmosphere. Being the lead, she has the most lines, but also delivers during the long silences without dialogue. She phenomenally portrays a seductress with motivations and intentions left somewhat to interpretation.
“Oh, face it, you just hate every single guy on the face of the earth.”
Scarlett’s first movie based on a comic book on this Top 10 list, but certainly not the last, is Ghost World. She plays Rebecca and best friend to Enid (Thora Birch). They are both out of high school facing the challenges and opportunities of adulthood. Unfortunately, throughout the course of the summer, their decisions and actions cause them to drift apart. While Johansson admittedly plays second fiddle to Birch as the main focus of the film, she still gets a satisfying arc and enough screen time to be a well-rounded character.
Ah, our first MCU film of four on this list with Scarlett as Natasha Romanoff / Black Widow. While Whedon‘s 2nd film for Marvel struggles in other areas, the growth of Johansson’s character is stronger here. Her backstory is expanded beyond just having been a spy for Russia, and her relationships with various team members are more clearly defined. In one particular emotional scene, she bears her soul and Scarlett sells it completely. Her character gets her due, and if nothing else, this film is worth it for that.
“You’re probably just having a mid-life crisis. Did you buy a Porsche yet?”
Perhaps the most critically acclaimed film that Scarlett Johansson has starred in is Lost in Translation. It won the Best Original Screenplay Oscar for writer/director Sofia Coppola. The movie follows main lead Bill Murray and his character’s fading stardom which brings him to Tokyo for a paycheck. There he and Charlotte (Johansson), another fish out of water, form an unlikely friendship. The two find solace in each other’s company as they explore the city and culture together.
“Going after him is a dead end. I know, I’ve tried.”
After the less popular entries of Iron Man 3 and Thor: The Dark World, the Russo brothers took the franchise back in a successful direction with The Winter Soldier. While definitely a Captain America film, Scarlett is present once again as Black Widow. She joins him in his search for the Winter Soldier and teaches him the ropes of the covert life, while being more friendly and flirtatious due to their working relationship. Scarlett has the most fun with the character here. Though Cap gets much of the spotlight and Falcon is introduced, Black Widow still gets to shine with some great hand-to-hand combat and witty one-liners.
The success of the Russo brothers’ first outing gave them the opportunity to follow it up with something even better, according to Flickchart users. The plethora of characters new and old means Scarlett is sharing time with a large cast. Despite that, she still has her best action and fight scenes yet, both in and out of the Black Widow costume. While siding with Tony and the Accords, she doesn’t let that jeopardize her loyalty to Captain America. Her complexity isn’t sacrificed or lost in the shuffle of the film.
This Spike Jonze written and directed film stars Joaquin Phoenix as a lonely man going through a divorce. He purchases an AI OS, which Scarlett Johansson voices, after seeing an ad while coming home from work. In his loneliness, he develops a deep connection with her, even though she is “just a computer” in the vein of Siri, Cortana, or Alexa. Scarlett’s sexy, husky voice is on full display as the actress is never shown on screen. The excellent story and writing won this film the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay.
“I’m in the middle of an interrogation and this moron is giving me everything.”
After her first appearance in Iron Man 2, Scarlett Johansson makes her stunning return as Black Widow in The Avengers. Controlling a room while being interrogated, and afterwards recruiting Banner to the team, quickly shows off her balanced character: strong, but not without fear and limitations. She continues in this vein throughout the rest of the film, participating as a valuable member of the team and proving vital to the film’s plot. Her contribution to the success of The Avengers helps it rank behind only the original Iron Man in the MCU. Now, six years later, the awaited Black Widow movie is one of Johansson’s films currently in pre-production.
“I’m here to give your show what’s still missing.”
Scarlett Johansson’s highest ranked film on Flickchart is The Prestige. From director Christopher Nolan and his co-writing brother, the film features two warring magicians portrayed by Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale. Here, Scarlett is a magician’s assistant, but is more than just eye candy to distract the audience while the magician does his work. She is forced to choose whom to side with, and comes to her own decision. Her performance is solid and helps round out the excellent cast.
Global Ranking: #212
Wins 61% of its Matchups
69,898 users have ranked it
869 have it at #1
12,569 have it in their Top 20
So what do you think? You can rank Scarlett Johansson’s films HERE and let us know your results in the comments.
The second entry in the planned five-film series of Potter prequels is unfortunately not as magical as one might hope. Despite a lackluster first entry, I had hoped this second film would focus on the prequel aspect of the series by centering on Grindelwald’s political movement and leaving out the whimsical adventures of Newt Scamander taming magical beasts. Or vice versa — more Grindelwald and fewer beasts. Instead, this second film doubles down on the tonal and script issues by trying to be two different films while tacking on a third story arc in the form of identity issues for the returning Credence (Ezra Miller) and newcomer Leta Lestrange (Zoë Kravitz). The result is a jumbled mess of a film that would leave even the famously untidy Hagrid blushing.
Some of the sloppiness can be attributed to middle entry sickness. With so many of the main events of the series clearly coming in later films, this feels like a placeholder for future events to come. Even so, the story is a confusing mishmash of events with no clear plot. Grindelwald (Johnny Depp) is gathering followers for a future uprising, but there is little actually accomplished in the way of story progress or character arcs. The editing only emphasizes how messy of a film this is. Scenes feel arbitrarily sequenced and have no emotional consistency.
The Crimes of Grindelwald does have some positives. The magical creatures featured are creatively designed and benefit from strong effects work (though there’s no mistaking them as anything but CGI). David Yates also tests some new directorial techniques, including extensive use of close-up shots on actors’ faces. It wouldn’t be much of an exaggeration to say this is the most artful use of direction in a Potter film since Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.
The acting is also decent. Eddie Redmayne continues to be delightfully awkward as Newt, as bland of a protagonist as he is. Depp is also welcomely understated as Grindelwald, opting for a quiet yet nefarious charm. Kravitz also manages to make a somewhat melodramatically-written character believable and bring some gravitas. Jude Law‘s younger Dumbledore is little more than window-dressing in this film, but Law does a decent enough job.
Some of the film’s late reveals will make both Potterheads and casual fans frown. The choices are questionable and it feels as though Rowling is drifting into George Lucas territory with some of the alterations to characters’ backstories. There is little in the way of momentum or buildup to the climax, and pairing that ennui with the grey, drab art direction makes The Crimes of Grindelwald a slog. Potter fans may find something to enjoy, but this feels like five hours of footage cut down and pieced together like Frankenstein’s monster. Hopefully later Fantastic Beasts movies can have more coherent stories as we get closer to something actually happening. If they’re all like this, however, it may not be worth the wait.
We’re hitting the reverse button to look at some of the best films hitting decade anniversaries this year, and so far we’ve done 1898/1908, 1918, 1938, 1958, 1968, 1978, 1988, and 2008, and this month it’s time to head back to 1948.
1948 marks almost the middle of the Golden Age of the Studio Era after sound was introduced, and it is a watershed year in studio history. On May 3, 1948, the Supreme Court declared that production studios owning theatre chains (and vice versa) constituted a violation of antitrust law. This meant studios no longer had a direct pipeline for their films to distribution, which had a ton of ramifications throughout the business, including the weakening of the studios themselves, the loss of their absolute power over talent, the rise of many more independent producers, and the vast reduction of certain types of films like B movies and shorts. Most of these developments, we tend to feel, were ultimately good for the film medium, but the changes took time to percolate through the system (Of course, in 2018 we’re back to five major studios owning just about everything anyway…)
In terms of the films made in 1948, it’s a pretty solid mix: film noir is going strong in the post-war era, Powell & Pressburger are using color in amazingly expressive ways, Westerns are starting to get a bit darker, and colorful adventures are as popular as ever. The Top Ten box office for the year reflects these trends, with The Red Shoes, The Three Musketeers (a non-musical role for Gene Kelly), Red River, and The Treasure of the Sierra Madre topping the chart. The Flickchart global list has many of the same films, and tosses in some of the best of world cinema as well, representing Italian neo-realism, Kurosawa noir, and the Best Picture Oscar-winner of the year, Britain’s Hamlet.
During the recent war, Laurence Olivier had had great success adapting Shakespeare’s patriotic history Henry V for beleaguered English audiences. That film is a sumptuously-colored marvel, exactly right for its moment and almost just as stirring today. In contrast, 1948’s Hamlet can feel like a step backwards. With it Olivier opted for a sober black and white palette, since Hamlet is a far grimmer play than Henry V. It is also claustrophobic where Henry V was expansive, mirroring Hamlet’s brooding self-absorption. Hamlet lacks the immediate relevance of Henry V‘s nationalistic message, so some modern audiences find it a bit self-indulgent. Yet it was Hamlet, not Henry V, that won Olivier his highest honor to date: a Best Picture Oscar. The recognition confirmed that Olivier embodied a generation’s standard for what a Shakespearean actor and director could and should be. The play was not the thing, at least not this time; arguably, any major Shakespeare title would have fared just as well. It was the player and his artistic vision that mattered now, not the immediate applicability of the message. Winning the war meant having the luxury to explore culture for culture’s sake, and what could be more cultured than Olivier doing Shakespeare? – David Conrad
“Did you remember her?” asks Louis Jourdan’s character to one of his servants. Jourdan may not have remembered a teenager like Lisa (Joan Fontaine), but we, as spectators to this story, are given the privilege of remembering this common teenage girl. With Letter From An Unknown Woman Max Ophüls crafts a film, a Stefan Zweig adaptation, that is haunting and incredibly moving while also indicative of the cinephilic experience. Charming as always is Jourdan, who plays a pianist on his way to stardom. Following his every step is an ordinary teenage girl (Fontaine) who admires and even loves Jourdan’s character from afar. They’re in different social spheres, and her age is an issue as well, but a girl can dream!
As a film hinging upon someone fawning over a star from afar, Letter From An Unknown Woman manages to communicate a basic characteristic of the moviegoing experience, as we are all a bit like Joan Fontaine’s character as we desire from our theater seats to be on screen with people like Louis Jourdan. Further connecting the film to filmic sensations is the dramatic emphasis on memory as something tangible (in that memories can be lost) and visible (as the experience of remembering is expressed by the camera, an apparatus that remembers all, and articulated through the editing). Using a letter as a bookending device helps make this story really sing as a film, as a letter is like a physical memory in that it is not a person telling a story directly but is instead the use of written words to retain meaning. In this case, the letter has an inciting incident, conflict, and rising and falling action.
Ophüls’ film is quite romantic, but not in a trite manner, as it presents us something real beneath the veneer of a period piece: longing, unrequited love, and ignorant admiration in spite of circumstance and against all logic. The conclusion is at once haunting and incredibly moving, a cautionary tale without the need to feel like a lesson. – Grant Douglas Bromley
By 1948 most of the classic Universal Monster series begun in the 1930s had run their course. Frankenstein and Dracula had hobbled into the 1940s with increasingly B-level and far-fetched sequels, but most of those films are forgotten today by all but the most die-hard Universal fans. What was a super popular Universal property in the 1940s, though, was Abbott & Costello. The crossover idea probably sounded absurd when it was first conceived: let’s throw our old monsters into a film with our superstar comedy team. But you know? IT WORKS. It works like gangbusters. Abbott and Costello work as baggage clerks at a railway station and Costello discovers a box with Dracula in it. Things spiral out of control from there, with Dracula trying to reanimate Frankenstein’s Monster and the Wolf Man trying to stop it. The film manages to play as both comedy and horror without ever losing track of its tone, due in no small part to the monsters being played by their original actors (except Frankenstein’s Monster, played here by Glenn Strange) and playing very straight against Abbott and Costello’s antics. There followed several other films with Abbott and Costello meeting other monsters, but none quite recaptured the magic of this one. – Jandy Hardesty
Drunken Angel initiated one of the most successful director-actor partnerships in history: that of Akira Kurosawa and Toshiro Mifune. Add in Takashi Shimura, who had already worked with Kurosawa more than once, and you’ve got the most powerful triumvirate in 1940s and 50s Japanese cinema. Today the most famous examples of this acclaimed partnership are medieval period pieces like Seven Samurai and Hidden Fortress, but Drunken Angel is quite representative of Kurosawa’s work as well. Most of his early movies, and quite a few of his later ones too, are contemporary urban tragedies or crime dramas like this one. Drunken Angel follows an angry young gangster (Mifune) and the world-weary doctor who diagnoses him with a serious medical condition (Shimura). The murky, rotten world they both inhabit provides the template for Kurosawa’s later social problem films like Stray Dog (1949), High and Low (1963), and Dodeskaden (1970). The film offers a pessimistic look at stubbornly sub-par living conditions in early postwar Japan — a topic Kurosawa had addressed in multiple films even before Drunken Angel, but which he could present here for the first time via the two iconic actors whose names would forever be linked with his, and with each other. – David
When Duane and Sonny go to see “the last picture show” in Peter Bogdanovich’s New Hollywood classic, that show turns out to be Howard Hawks’ Red River, a western starring John Wayne and Montgomery Clift on a cattle drive from Texas to Missouri. It’s interesting to ruminate on why Bogdanovich picked it. Like The Last Picture Show, this film is a bit about the passing of generations, as Wayne and Clift (his adopted son in the film) vie for leadership over the long and grueling cattle drive. The story is somewhat inspired by Mutiny on the Bounty, with Wayne becoming more and more tyrannical (like Captain Bligh) until his men lose morale and eventually Clift (mirroring Christian Fletcher) challenges his leadership. The West is often larger-than-life, but add a tense struggle between tyranny and mutiny, amp it up by centering it on a father-son relationship, and you’ve got all the makings of a film that isn’t just another cowboy film, but a veritable frontier epic. – Jandy
Key Largo marks the fourth and final time that famous on-and-off-screen couple Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall worked together on screen, and their only joint collaboration with director John Huston, who was a very close friend and frequent collaborate with Bogart (in fact, he and Bogart made The Treasure of the Sierra Madre together this very same year; more on that later!) Here, Bogart is a former soldier visiting the father (Lionel Barrymore) and widow (Bacall) of one of his war buddies at their hotel in the Florida Keys, but he’s not the only guest — also staying there is gangster Johnny Rocco (Edward G. Robinson), waiting to complete a deal. To really pile on the stress, there’s also a hurricane about to blow through. Yeah, this film is not subtle, but it is great at what it’s doing, which is ratcheting up tension among this group of stranded, desperate people as they egg each other on under the pressure not just of Rocco’s threats, but of internal weaknesses and external climatic forces. The sticky, sweaty, tropical atmosphere comes through in every frame. Tensions run high throughout and yet always manage to go higher thanks to the way the film orchestrates its supporting characters and their individual foibles and struggles. Obviously you have the leads plus heavyweight character actors like Barrymore and Robinson, but Claire Trevor is a definite standout as Rocco’s alcoholic girl. The cinematography deserves a major shout-out, too, with some of the most extreme lights and darks you’ll find in noir. In one conversation among the captives, each of them is illuminated by just a single line of light marking their profiles. The cinematographer is Karl Freund, who honed his craft during the height of German Expressionism on films such as Metropolis. I often have a love-hate relationship with Huston’s filmography, but this is one I unequivocally love. – Jandy
Of all of the films touted as being among Alfred Hitchcock’s best, this is the most intimate and, I would argue, the most claustrophobic, even more so than Rear Window, which at least looks out into the world beyond. Taking place in a living room in a single evening, Rope begins by showing us the immediate aftermath of a murder already committed, and the rest of the time we spend wondering if the killers will get away with it. Hitchcock famously used extremely long takes and creative editing to make it seem as if the film was one long continuous shot taking place in real time. In addition to the work the camera does to leave its audience in suspense, our murderous leads are a source of tension all their own, with one too nervous to cover his mistakes and the other so bursting with pride at their accomplishment that he’s on the verge of just blurting out what they’ve done. We don’t want either of these unpleasant characters to get away with their horrible act, but it’s hard not to get drawn into the thrilling uncertainty of it all. While the film wasn’t met with overwhelming positivity on its release (the gimmick was admired but the script itself didn’t grip everyone), it has earned a reputation as an underrated gem among Hitchcock’s oeuvre and now lands just outside the Flickchart top 100. – Hannah Keefer
Humphrey Bogart is undoubtedly best known for Casablanca, a perennial contender for the best movie of all time, yet the best performance of his career comes from this John Huston Western. Anti-Western might be a better term, as Huston’s take on the genre aims at showing the ugly abscesses on the heart of man created by the greed of expansionism. Some may consider the story typical, with the obvious life lesson of “greed corrupts” a fairly straightforward one. But the story has never been told better, with the journey of three men into the desert mountains of Mexico creating one of the tensest and most memorable films ever. Bogart is joined by fantastic performance from Walter Huston (the director’s father) and Tim Holt who relate to Bogart’s greedy adventurer in different ways.
It wouldn’t be a Huston film without gorgeous cinematography capturing the expanses of the West in all their desolate glory. The emptiness, and the belief that something precious lies within it, can drive a man insane. Some complain that Bogart’s Dobbs is too obviously cruel from the start of the film, somewhat undercutting the idea of his gradual descent. Yet Dobbs, at the beginning, is simply poor, defeated, and desperate. He thinks he has nowhere to go but up, and he’s tragically wrong. It’s fitting that Vince Gilligan took inspiration from this character’s journey in crafting his television masterpiece Breaking Bad and its protagonist/antagonist Walter White. Of all Huston’s films, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre remains perhaps his most powerful. – Connor Adamson
It surprised me a bit to find The Red Shoes above Treasure of the Sierra Madre on the global chart (though these top three are literally as close as they can be, back-to-back-to-back!), but the deeper stats tell an interesting a story. A lot of people have seen and like Treasure. Red Shoes has fewer viewers, but the highest win percentage on this list, and twice as many people have it as their #1 as have Treasure at #1. In other words, people who love The Red Shoes REALLY love it. The story is your basic Svengali situation, a young dancer (Moira Shearer) discovered by an impresario who falls for her, but she’s in love with a composer. The story is quite overwrought but befits the ballet setting. It culminates in a ballet called the Red Shoes, based on the Hans Christian Andersen story of a dancer who puts on red shoes and is unable to take them off or stop dancing until she dies (Andersen is very into dying). The real star here is the extended ballet sequence and the lush color used throughout. Technicolor had been around for many years by 1948, but no one maximized its expressive qualities like cinematographer Jack Cardiff did when working with directors Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger. Cutting it a little slack for the melodramatic story, the film is a veritable feast for the senses in every way. – Jandy