Call for Feature Essays About Any Aspect of Popular Culture, Present or Past

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Tuesday, Jun 5, 2012
Some consider him a genius. Others label him style over substance. Here are 10 examples of Ridley Scott's aesthetic, including his most recent "return to form".

For many, the name Ridley Scott meant nothing until the final frames of a film called Alien. Then, after witnessing what many thought was the birth of a new voice in genre filmmaking, few would forget him. Yet there was more to the man that leading us around a world where no one could hear us scream. He was a merchant marine. He graduated from art school and worked for the BBC. In the late ‘60s, he started a production company with his brother Tony and began making a name for himself in commercials. By the time he tackled his first full length feature film, he was 40 years old. Since then, he’s made some of the best and most visually accomplished films of the post-modern era. He’s also been in charge of some less than thrilling excesses (1492: Conquest of Paradise anyone?).


Now, after a decade which saw his greatest success (Gladiator) matched by some of his worst received efforts ever (A Good Year, Body of Lies), Scott seems back on top. His revisit of the Alien franchise, the powerful Prometheus, promises to bring the 73-year-old back to the beloved geeks and fanboys who turned him into a titan in the first place. But there is much more to Scott’s creative canon than visits to planets far off and interaction with creatures mechanical and monstrous. With 20 films to his credit, we’ve decided to rank Ridley’s 10 best. You may not agree with the final countdown, but in a true rollercoaster career, this represents his most accomplished and artistic. Few filmmakers have Scott’s solid cinematic eye. Few also have a compendium of aesthetics as strong as this one, beginning with:


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Tuesday, May 29, 2012
Everyone's favorite space opera turns 35 this week. Here are 10 reasons why we still love this adventure from long ago, in a galaxy far, far away.

It was 35 years ago, on a simple summer weekend like this, that a new American mythology was born. Based in the boyhood dreams of its creator and formed over the fears of its clueless studio backers, it was released to little fanfare and even less audience enthusiasm. In fact, for months before it premiered, its tacky trailer turned off as many viewers as it supposedly enticed. Yet those who waited in line to see what this new proposed blockbuster was all about were not disappointed. George Lucas, still high from the hit status of his love letter to the ‘50s, American Graffiti, returned to his THX 1138 roots to reinvent the action film for a speculative fiction crowd. The results have since become an entertainment juggernaut, a never-ending combination of folklore and merchandising that has managed to maintain its popularity across decades and generations.


So what it is about Star Wars that we love so much? It’s definitely not the prequels which figured out the seemingly impossible task of making devotees uneasy about further journeys into this galaxy long ago and far, far, away. It’s not the ancillary characters like Queen Amidala, General Grievous, and Count Dooku (well, the last two are pretty cool). No, it’s the basics, it’s the building blocks upon which this entire enterprise was formed and forwarded. It’s the unabridged version of the first film, the grit and realism of the practical F/X unaltered by shoddy CGI. It’s the people who populated that original trilogy, including heroes and villains, scoundrels and surprise warriors. It’s also the gadgets and gizmos, the vision of a world like ours and yet wholly different and unique.


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Tuesday, May 22, 2012
It's rare when a critic can go back and reevaluate their previous passions. Here are 10 examples of highly praised films that demand a personal reevaluation.

As of this month, May of 2012, I will have been a “professional” film critic for a grand total of ten years. Ten years. I can remember the first reviews I ever wrote, my entrance into the biz built on the back of Something Weird Video and their desire to bring old school exploitation to the early Ought masses. Initially hired (somewhere else) to be “Mr. Sh*t”—a title given to the writer in charge of all the bad films found in the site’s inbox—my responsibilities eventually broaden toward more mainstream (read: quality) fare. I still maintained by connection to the grindhouse, but soon realized that I had entered the fray just as the format, DVD, was coming into its own. Like a window on a world I had never known before, the influx of outsider titles, as well the changes in technology, meant almost anyone could make a movie…and it showed. Often. 


Over the years, I have been lucky enough to watch the growth of several significant artists. I’ve also experienced the flash in the pan passing of many should-have-beens. With the anniversary on my doorstep, I decided to go back through my 3,000-plus reviews and pick 10 movies I really need to revisit. Oddly, I had started this process at the beginning of the year and realized more times than not, I was right in my original fawning praise (or instantly dismissal) of efforts I hadn’t seen in a very long time. Listed in alphabetical order, here is a collection of seven strange and three mainstream movies that I need to personally go back to and reevaluate. In each case, my reaction was strong, instantaneous, and powerful. Rarely does an opinion change upon review, but when you’ve stayed this course as long as I have, nothing is ever set in stone.


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Tuesday, May 15, 2012
Their combined names are synonymous with creative risk-taking within a mainstream movie dynamic. Here's how we rank the eight (and counting) collaborations between this eclectic duo.

Throughout the history of film, there have been several successful actor/director collaborations - Jimmy Stewart/Cary Grant and Alfred Hitchcock, Robert DeNiro and Martin Scorsese…even Jerry Lewis and Frank Tashlin. From John Ford and his western icon muse, John Wayne to Billy Wilder and Jack Lemmon, the results usually remind viewers of the special bond between cast and crew. Nowhere is this more true than in the work of Tim Burton and Johnny Depp. While he has also used his wife Helena Bonham Carter in his last seven films, the eight this filmmakers has made with the former teen idol stand as an important linking verb to today’s Hollywood. After the ultra-high concept days of the ‘80s, Burton and Depp have managed to make material otherwise deemed weird or eclectic into a brazen box office bonanza. They haven’t always succeeded wholly, but their attempts consistently borderline art.


So how does one rank such a divergent collection? How do you place a noble adaptation of a time honored Broadway masterwork alongside a silly slice of fairy tale reinterpretation. Oddly enough, quality overwhelms many of the more mundane reasons. While he is often criticized for his storytelling skills and lack of a successful third act, Burton can bring out the best in his partners. As seen in the determination below, the eight efforts (with, one assumes, more to come) guided by the duo defy easy explanation or examination. Like the men who made them, they are complicated, easily misunderstood, and often dismissed without a desire to dig deeper. When viewed through a less arch aesthetic, we discover that, overall, Burton and Depp have triumphed. Not always in the ways viewers might want, but definitely within the designs that keep their teamwork tantalizing. Let’s begin with their most recent revision:


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Tuesday, May 8, 2012
These are 10 filmmaking talents whose work can only be truly appreciated on a canvas 70-feet high. They visualize their ideas in larger than life swatches, switching gears and driving their designs to the very edges of imagination.

For film, summer is the season of hyperbole. Everything is bigger, better, and more groundbreaking than what came just a short nine months before. Critics complain about the lack of originality and then soil themselves whenever a motion picture product proves beyond the middling and mediocre. One of the mantras you hear over and over, from the latest installment of Christopher Nolan’s Batman revision to another Michael Bay explosion-fest is: ‘make sure you see it on the big screen’ - as if watching worlds collide and robots ransack the planet demands an experience 70-feet high. Sure, visual splash sells better when not compacted onto a home theater system, but for the most part, video assist has guaranteed the experience will always feel format friendly. In fact, few filmmakers today really ‘get’ the notion of playing to the silver, not the smaller venues.


There are directors, however, who comprehend the needs of the epic. They visualize their ideas in larger than life swatches, switching gears and driving their designs to the very edges of imagination. Sometimes, their narrative demands such range. In other instances, possibility and its motion picture presence are measured out in vast, viable inventions. For us, these filmmakers represent some of the best optical experts ever. Their conceits demand the kind of Herculean housing that only a movie theater can provide. While there are many more one can name (and feel free to do so in the comments section), we’ve picked the 10 that we believe best exemplify the careful balancing act of storyline and scope. If you can, catch them during their often celebrated retrospectives. You and your waning cinematic aesthetic will be glad you did.


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