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Tuesday, May 31, 2011
In recognition of his entire career (and the recent release of A Clockwork Orange in a 40th Anniversary Blu-ray Edition), we order Stanley Kubrick's classics, from #11 to #1.

It’s like picking through diamonds. Some are flawless. Others have minor imperfections that do little to damage their luster. As for the rest, well, there are a couple that could pass for precious, but beyond that, they’re more industrial than iridescent. That’s what it’s like looking over Stanley Kubrick’s amazing output. In the lexicon of film, few stand as tall or as iconic as this renowned genius. He’s the agreed upon gold standard, the definitive talking point when the subject of cinema as art comes around. Few have reached his level of reverence. So imagine the difficulty in ranking his work. With so many great entries to go through, so many mythic movies to consider, it is like being a jeweler. One has to take into consideration the entirety of the catalog, as well as the standing of each object, before plowing through and putting them in order.


There is a caveat, however. For starters, we have purposefully left out Kubrick’s first two “films”—1953’s Fear and Desire and 1955’s Killer’s Kiss. The former was disavowed by the director and has not had a legitimate home video release. The latter suffers from some technical issues and is considered a mere shadow of the filmmaker’s future genius. We also aren’t addressing his days as a photographer or his work in newsreels and short subjects. While important, they don’t fully explain this director’s lasting appeal and influence. Instead, this is an exercise in examining Kubrick’s ‘critical’ output—the titles that took him from unknown New York novice to internationally recognized auteur. Each step along the way, each aesthetic leap, leads to one inevitable conclusion—as an oeuvre, few are more impressive. As a craftsman, none can match him.


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Wednesday, May 25, 2011
In honor of Memorial Day weekend in the States, we offer up our choices for the 10 Greatest War Movies of All Time. As you can see, not even war's impact is singular. Sometime, the reach can be very long indeed.

In some ways, it’s a natural subject for cinema. It has scope. It packs inherent drama. It has all the swagger, the allure, and the blood-spattered spectacle that makes the visual medium so viable. Yet the war film—an indirect derivation of the thriller, action effort, and (sometimes) critical commentary—is often foiled by the very elements it has to cater to. Offer up too much realism and the audience looks away in dismay. Play up the arrogance or the attraction and your motives are questioned. Human conflict is a tricky concept to completely nail down. Some want nothing but the immoral aftermath, never once addressing the equally depraved aspects that brought us to this point. Many crave a helping of clear-cut heroics and villainy, the better to secure their hegemonic/sovereign/patriotic stance.


So coming up with a list of the Greatest War Movies of All Time is tough, especially in light of the divergent approaches taken. Want nothing more than flag waving and enemy annihilation? Go for the ‘50s combat conceit, a time when John Wayne, Clark Gable, and Burt Lancaster would steer the stars and stripes course. Or maybe your prefer the ‘70s, with its stark cynicism and attempt to grapple with the bigger issues involved. From something as sobering as Schindler’s List to the over the top casting that carries The Longest Day, one’s decision has to balance the message with the media. In that regard—and in recognition of the 24 May release of Platoon on Blu-ray—SE&L offers up its list of the 10 Best looks at human conflict through the ages. Most are decided on the field of battle. But as you can see, not even war’s impact is singular. Sometime, the reach can be very long indeed.


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Tuesday, May 3, 2011
Our picks for the Top 5 films of the Spring...and yes, we are prepared for the inevitable blowback.

Now, for the controversy. Now, to stir up a spit storm or two. You can’t have ‘Worsts’ without ‘Bests’, and you can’t have either without some manner of aesthetic argument. Right now, there are lovers of a certain cotton-tailed character from a month or so back that can’t believe some cynical old jerk thought his merry little movie was one of 2011 animated abominations. Similarly, the minute this list of “likes” takes shape, there will be many admonishing the choices at numbers five and four (at least). It’s all part of the game, part of the process of trying to wrap one’s critical brain around what Hollywood hands us every January through April. Some years, selecting a group of good movies is not all that hard. In others, the pickings are slimmer than a supermodel.


In 2011, what we got the most of was promising if not completely successful content. Paul, for example, had the brilliant Simon Pegg and Nick Frost in the leads (and with the script) and the always interesting Greg Mottola behind the lens. Yet the alien on the lam with two UK geeks comedy really didn’t deliver on its percolating nerd potential. Similarly, a movie like The Green Hornet tweaked a ton of comic book conventions (pissing off the funny book fanbase in the process) and yet couldn’t quite bring together its clever combination of superhero and satire. The Mechanic was a fine action effort…and that’s about it, while Fast Five did a direct job of addressing the franchise’s often obvious weaknesses…and little else.


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Thursday, Mar 17, 2011
The ten best examples of the alien overthrow Hollywood has ever attempted...

The aliens are coming! The aliens are coming! Actually, they’re already here. This weekend (18 March), Greg Mottola and writers/stars Simon Pegg and Nick Frost are bringing Paul, their geek ET comedy, to big screens nationwide, while just seven days before, Marine officer Aaron Eckhart and his ragtag group of grunts tried to save California in an epic Battle: Los Angeles. As long as there have been Halloween radio broadcasts, there has been media talk of invading spacemen and the destruction they leave in their interstellar path. Cinema has long championed the alien overthrow, using the concept for everything from comedy to commentary, action to awkward cautionary tales. Of the dozens directed at drive-ins and theaters around the world, few made the grade. The good ones stand out. The subpar simply drift off into the stratosphere.


One title destined to slip the bonds of this planet and pass into infamy, 2010’s Skyline, is about to make its debut on DVD and Blu-ray (available: 22 March), and it got the staff at SE&L thinking… what are the best alien invasion movies of all time? What war of the worlds got us thinking about the fate of the planet, and our precarious place among the others? In compiling this list, we did make a few conscious decisions. First, we discounted any movie where the confront occurred while airborne or off planet (this leaves out titles such as Alien, Aliens, and the like). We also restricted our choices to films where the outer space clash (or infestation of same) was the most important plot part. Finally, this is all a matter of opinion, though one has to admit that, when taking a look at all the possible entries, many are pretty poor.


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Thursday, Nov 11, 2010
Ten examples of evil cosmic conquerors and their eventual mash-up with mankind.

We’ve had killer klowns, pod people, and replicants. Earth has been overrun by predators, robots, and some manner of interstellar “vampire”.  Ever since cavemen noticed unexplained lights in the sky and marveled at where they could possibly come from, folklore (and their modern equivalent, films) have speculated on the very stars above, wondering if they are inhabited and the intentions of said unseen space dwellers. Sadly, most of our narratives have focused on evil ETs, beings and their advanced technologies bent on taking over the entire galaxy - with our planet directly in their path. While we have had the occasional visionary variation, most of the time its saucers, lasers, and lots and lots of carnage.


The latest version of this cosmic campfire tale - the unscreened for critics Skyline - arrives in theaters on 12 November, and in celebration of said end of the world scenario, SE&L has decided to fashion a Top 10 list of the Alien Invasion Films. Of course, this is a matter of opinion, not rote reality, and your mileage/choices/appreciation will - and definitely should - vary. In a genre overrun with middling to mediocre examples, our picks are not necessarily endemic.  Instead, we’ve chosen to focus on those films which tried something different - and on occasion, failed fabulously. We’ve also decided against numbering said entries, since position is a tangential issue at best.


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