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Best Movies of the Decade [The 2010s]

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The 50 Best Films of the 2010s: Part Four

As we move further up the list of our staff’s picks for the Best Movies of the 2010s, more consensus begins to emerge from the writers, even if there are still plenty of champions for films that have been left behind. As stated previously, it’s nearly impossible to make lists like this that include everyone’s favorites, but as our collective taste starts to take shape, a clearer picture develops of just what Goomba Stomp’s film section, dubbed Sordid Cinema, is all about. Our writers span the globe and a wide spectrum of movie preferences, but the closer we get to the end, the more we start to find common ground. The list continues below!

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Best Movies of the Decade- Black Swan

20.) Black Swan

Darren Aronofsky has long been one of modern cinema’s most fascinating filmmakers. Since making a big splash in the 90s with Pi and Requiem for a Dream, Aronofsky has gone on to challenge movie-goers with increasingly dense and uncompromising works.

Black Swan may be his magnum opus in this regard. Nina, played by a never-better Natalie Portman, is a perfectionist. Honed by her ballerina mother into the perfect dancer over the course of her life, Nina pushes herself to endless lengths in order to be the best. However, when artistic director Thomas Leroy tells her she lacks passion in her audition for Swan Lake, she aims to explore the aspects of life that she’s been missing in hopes of capturing the passion the role requires.

Though the twist may be predictable, it’s almost secondary to what Black Swan is trying to do. A deep, dark look into the abyss, Black Swan is a film about the singular obsession of perfectionism, and how it can rob young athletes and performers of anything resembling a normal life. As such, Black Swan is as much a tragic cautionary tale as it is an erotic descent into artistic madness. (Mike Worby)

Dunkirk

19.) Dunkirk

The pure magic of cinema is on harrowing display in Christopher Nolan’s exquisitely crafted thriller about the evacuation of the British and other Allied forces from the French coast during World War II. Dunkirk jettisons many of the storytelling crutches so many war movies have come to rely on, replacing those blunt philosophical speeches and manufactured character moments with the kind of exacting visuals and visceral sound design that communicate precisely everything an audience needs to know about the terror depicted. Not a minute is wasted in exposition; the images tell the tale here, taking the medium back to its roots. Through pictures Nolan builds an army of genuine people, their mouths ominously silent but their eyes and actions instantly relating volumes. His frame then constricts their freedom (and ours), ramping up unease by showing us packed lines of men desperate to escape, crammed onto piers just waiting, looking out to the vast ocean of blue skies and open water that offers something so close, yet so far.

Once it has us wound up, Dunkirk yanks on the thread, unspooling in a furious assembly of bullet pops, swooping dogfights, and fiery sea battles, all working in harmony to support each other. Rarely have I felt so utterly helpless in response to something so simple as the whine of an airplane engine, but Nolan pulls the strings perfectly, effortlessly navigating the peaks and valleys of tension and release. That he does this without a more traditional dialogue-heavy script is especially impressive — a reminder of how affecting cinema can be in its purest form. Dunkirk pushes the action genre forward by looking back, a triumph of filmmaking that dares to believe in the core fundamentals of movies. (Patrick Murphy)

18.) Shame

While many films have been made in and around erotic subject matter, few have dared to look at sex as something as terrifying as it is pleasurable. Writer-director Steve McQueen’s Shame dives into the mouth of that very beast, digging up some unsettling and unsightly truths as a result.

Brandon (a chillingly detached Michael Fassbender) walks through his life as though in a fog. Everything in his existence centers around the next sexual encounter, the next orgasm. When he’s not trawling for married women on the subway or picking up girls at the bar, he’s compulsively masturbating on his work computer or planning his next seduction. Most directors would have a hard time making gorgeous people having sex seem so monotonous and unenjoyable, but somehow McQueen gets under the glamor of what society tells us about sex in most entertainment in order to create something truly ugly. 

An utter tour-de-force, Shame is to sex what Requiem for a Dream is to drugs or Leaving Las Vegas is to alcohol: a truly unsettling look into an addiction and how it can destroy someone. (Mike Worby)

Best Movies of the Decade - Upstream Color

17.) Upstream Color

Polymath Shane Carruth lay dormant for nearly a decade after his Sundance cult hit, Primer, igniting a fury among online film enthusiasts over what his next project might be. It was well worth the wait. Rather than find a franchise meal ticket, the do-it-yourself filmmaker doubled down on his impenetrable storytelling style, offering another low budget sci-fi wonder. If Primer was the heady hard sci-fi movie nerds had been craving in the 2000s after years of execrable big-budget efforts, then Upstream Color was its more esoteric and empathetic sibling — “soft” sci-fi for the millennial era.

It’s an age-old story of enigmatic organisms creating a symbiotic relationship between strangers (and pigs), and a couple’s quest for purpose and agency. Whereas a lesser effort might’ve rested on its metaphorical laurels of biological symbiosis standing in for the codependency of romantic relationships, Upstream Color says “hold my worm beer!” Repetition, abstraction, visual patterns, and aural disorientation assault the viewer into the subjective minds of its tragic couple. For some, it’s just a headache, but for those who vibrate with its mesmerizing wavelength, it’s a movie to dissect like a great piece of literature. (Shane Ramirez)  

Arrival - Best Movies of 2010s

16.) Arrival

Like all good science-fiction, Arrival has a clear message. Avoiding the negativity that often comes with an alien’s First Trip to Earth and the destruction that ensues, the heptapods that grace this world with their presence in Denis Villeneuve’s 2016 film have a rather different story to tell, setting them apart from other extra-terrestrials seen in cinema.

The aim of the game is communication; this is key. It’s only fitting that our protagonist is linguist Louise Banks, and even better that she be played by the undervalued Amy Adams. Haunted by a tragic event, there is nobody more suited to the role, as Louise quietly and subtly tries to make sense of the major event she finds herself in. It’s a role that should have won her accolades and yet didn’t due to its lack of showiness or physical alteration, but it’s one of the best of the decade, neither overshadowing the main event or alienating the audience — she is the beating heart of what might otherwise seem a cold space.

Stylistically, Arrival is cold; Louise lives alone in a large, mostly monochrome home surrounded by large windows, whilst the aliens inhabit black, convex-shaped ships filled with white fog. However, unlike sci-fi of a similar aesthetic (think 2001: A Space Odyssey), its optimism and hope come from a universal theme: that of working together and putting aside our differences for the good of our species. The heptapods have already learned this, but in order to survive, so must the humans, and it’s this journey that connects us emotionally with the film.

When all is said and done, Denis Villeneuve may have a more prominent classic up his sleeve, but for the 2010s, this often overlooked alien movie is his best to date. (Veronica Cooper)

Under the Skin

15.) Under the Skin

Scarlett Johansson’s eyes scanning the streets of Glasgow, crowned with jet-black hair. Hapless yet serene men sinking step by step into a viscous black nothingness. An infant shrieking alone on a beach, fierce waves crashing too closely for comfort. Slurry, red gore pouring into an incandescent opening to…where, exactly? A man with facial neurofibromatosis wandering naked in the countryside. A wisp of black smoke dissipating between snowflakes. If it can garner no other praise, Jonathan Glazer’s first film in over a decade can at least claim some of the only truly iconic images to etch themselves onto the retinae of moviegoers in quite some time.

With some filmmakers fleeing to television in search of new modes of storytelling, it has been left up to true visionaries to push the boundaries of the medium and fight to keep it relevant. Under the Skin is a testament to the art of careful subtraction. Glazer pared down the film’s source material — Michael Faber’s novel of the same name — to a small collection of characters, visual motifs, and key incidents, using his decades-honed eye for conjuring imagery that packs a subconscious wallop to do the heavy lifting. Thanks to Glazer’s minimalist approach, Under the Skin gains an immense allegorical power that no other film of the decade could match, touching on identity politics, eroticism, the [assignation of your choice] gaze, and especially the power and the dangers of empathy.

Through it all, Johansson’s disquieting performance acts as a constant magic trick, a sort of reverse uncanny valley. Whether or not Glazer takes another decade to follow it up, Under the Skin will stand as one of the totemic features of both arthouse and genre filmmaking for a very long time to come. (Simon Howell)

Best Movies of the Decade

14.) Call Me By Your Name

Luca Guadagnino’s adaptation of the André Aciman vivid coming-of-age novel was a major step forward for gay cinema. Not only is it one of the greatest (if not greatest) big-screen stories ever told of first love, but it’s one that also transcends the same-sex dynamic of its protagonists. Scripted for the screen by James Ivory, Call Me By Your Name follows a 17-year-old teenage boy (Timothée Chalamet) living in the picturesque Italian countryside who falls into a passionate fling with a 24-year-old American graduate student (Armie Hammer) who’s come to study abroad for the season. Amid the sun-drenched splendor of their surroundings, Elio and Oliver discover the beauty of awakening desire over the course of a summer that will alter their lives forever.

There are plenty of reasons to praise Call Me by Your Name: chief among them, Sayombhu Mukdeeprom’s gorgeous cinematography, Guadagnino’s masterful direction and Walter Fasano’s patient editing which allows scenes to play out in long, uninterrupted takes, capturing the rollercoaster of emotions Oliver and Elio experience during those glorious summer days— but it is the extraordinary performances of the lead actors that makes Call Me by Your Name one of the best films of the decade. One can run out of superlatives to both Hammer and Chalamet who give heartfelt performances as two young men unsure about themselves, their lives, and each other. When Oliver suggests the exchange that gives the film its title, it illustrates the deep passion felt between the two; their performance so good, one could be forgiven for thinking the actors really did fall in love on set.

Despite some scenes that may make some viewers uncomfortable (see the juicy peach scene), Call Me by Your Name is erotic yet never graphic— in the end, it’s really a movie for incurable romantics and a film that sweeps you up and never lets go until the end when it leaves you emotionally devastated. The entire finale which holds the camera on Chalamet’s silent face for what seems like an eternity, will linger in your memory long after the credits roll. As we watch him desperately trying not to cry and grow older before our eyes, we know he’ll eventually move on and love again, but that doesn’t change the heartache both he and we feel in the moment. Call Me by Your Name isn’t just an LGBT classic; it’s one of the great movie love stories ever made, and one of the best films of the past ten years. (Ricky D)

Drive - Best Movies of 2010s

13.) Drive

Ryan Gosling excels in playing shut-off characters, men who reveal nothing about themselves to others, yet are guided by a strong internal code; think Place Beyond the Pines, Blade Runner 2049 , or First Man. His performance as a mechanic and stuntman moonlighting as a getaway driver in Drive puts his blank-faced expression to its best possible use, making him a modern Western hero trapped in neo-noir Los Angeles. 

What makes the story — Walter Hill’s The Driver crossed with Le Samourai  — so memorable is how romantic its vision is. The Driver’s relationship with his neighbour, Irene (played expertly by Carey Mulligan), forces the usually remote man to suddenly develop a heart, giving us an unusual level of emotional investment in the film’s car chases and violent scenes. Abetted by class performances from Bryan Cranston, Ron Perlman, and Albert Brooks, Drive easily asserts itself as the best pure crime movie of the decade. 

A large part of the success of the movie is down to its song choices. Has there been a soundtrack that quite defined the vibe of the decade like the one for Drive? The futuristic synth-wave sounds of “A Real Hero,” “Nightcall,” and “Under The Spell” cast a seductive spell, instantly immersing us into the life of our reserved driver hero. Inspiring its own micro-genre of music, Drive’s aesthetic is instantly recognizable, immediately recalling empty, light-strewn streets, sleek cars, and Los Angeles sunsets. 

Inspired by his biggest success, Nicolas Winding Refn built upon Drive’s aesthetic with challenging pieces such as Only God Forgives, Neon Demon, and Too Old To Die Young. While those films can be a bit obtuse, Drive that remains his most exhilarating and accessible work. Expertly straddling the line between genre and experimentation, it satisfies both arthouse and Grand Theft Auto fans — a true event movie with a little something for everyone. (Redmond Bacon)

The Master Best Movies of the 2010s

12.) The Master

For Paul Thomas Anderson, the past decade has been about expanding the breadth and virtuosity of his craft. He had shown himself to have unimagined depths with There Will Be Blood (2007), but it wasn’t until his sixth feature that he would reveal himself to have a seemingly limitless range. His other films of the decade, Inherent Vice and Phantom Thread, could just as easily occupy a spot among the best of the decade, but it’s The Master that remains his boldest and most breathtaking vision.

The lead-up to The Master’s release led many to believe that it would be Anderson’s “Scientology movie,” a work inspired by the religion/cult’s founding which he had gotten his friend Tom Cruise’s blessing for. Yet it turned out to be a rather limiting way to view the film. Yes, there’s a 1950s stand-in for Scientology, but The Master is far more concerned with the equally loving and hateful relationship of two men, destined to be separated by fate and circumstance.

Joaquin Phoenix, working on a level most great actors have only imagined, plays Freddie Quell, a disillusioned alcoholic with serious psychological damage from the Second World War. We’re introduced to him in a stunning and anxiety-provoking shot as he dangles — passed out — from the mast of a naval cruise, high above the Pacific. He mixes dangerous and unorthodox drinks from whatever he can find (paint thinner, rocket fuel, industrial alcohol), which seem to be slowly hollowing out his body.

As he tries to adapt to civilian life (and utterly fails), Freddie meets Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman, never better), a charming and sometimes boorish stand-in for L. Ron Hubbard. Lancaster runs his own religion, which sometimes forces them to take to the sea on a massive yacht, and even runs them afoul of the law. Quell becomes his assistant of sorts, but only partly; he’s a true believer who doesn’t believe in anything. No other film of the decade has had two actors working so masterfully with each other. Phoenix is like a rabid animal at times, but Hoffman’s method acting is maybe the more impressive performance. He creates a vividly realized portrait of a power-hungry but lonely man that feels completely of this world. Phoenix is amazing and it’s hard to look away, but he’s off in the stratosphere somewhere.

Adding to the impressive casting (which also includes Amy Adams and Laura Dern) is Robert Elswit’s cinematography, which features the vivid colors of classic technicolor without the otherworldly effect. Jonny Greenwood’s score is just as brilliant, and much more subtle than the masterpiece he composed for There Will Be Blood. Anderson ties these elements together in a way that allows us to luxuriate in the details as much as we’re invested in its story and characters. What’s most impressive about the film is that Anderson somehow managed to follow it up with two other great films. One masterpiece would have been enough for the decade, but he keeps churning them out. (Brian Marks)

Tree of Life - Best Movies of the Decade

11.) The Tree of Life

Terrence Malick has been in dialogue with the natural world since his first film, Badlands (1973), but it wasn’t until his 2011 masterpiece The Tree of Life that he finally gave the universe its due. Where previously he had paused his tales of murderers on the run or soldiers marching toward certain death to ponder the creatures all around us, now he was willing to bring everything to a screeching halt to explore the creation of the cosmos. In eighteen minutes or so, he goes from depicting the great burst of energy that birthed the universe to showing the dinosaurs and prehistoric creatures that once ruled our Earth, and then suddenly we’re back again in 1950s Texas. It’s a flex that shouldn’t work on paper, yet Malick shows why he’s one of our greatest living directors by making the grandest subject imaginable as gorgeous and enthralling as the trials and tribulations of one young family.

The semi-autobiographical story follows Jack O’Brien, the youngest of three boys, as he grows to be a fiercely conflicted child (a revelatory Hunter McCracken, who hasn’t appeared in a film since) rebelling against the strictures he’s been raised with, to a dour and regret-filled adult adrift in a sea of glass and concrete (Sean Penn). Early in the film, we see his parents (Jessica Chastain and Brad Pitt, both at the top of their game) a decade later as they receive a telegram informing them that Jack’s younger brother has died. It’s only then that we go back to the beginning of time, and then jet forward to the 1950s, when the family is blissfully unaware of their future heartache. The Tree of Life’s masterful editing (by a team of five) contextualizes every incident with Jack’s family so that we’re constantly contemplating the transitory nature of life, even when things seem as good as they’ll ever be.

But the more radical move is the way Malick seems as invested in this portrait of his own family as he does with all of creation. Through his sublime visuals (aided by Emmanuel Lubezki’s ever-searching camera) and impeccably curated selection of romantic and contemporary classic music, he puts the beginning of life on Earth and the beginning of a single child’s life on the same grand scale. Every Malick film invites viewers to contemplate the wonders of life, but never quite as intoxicatingly as The Tree of Life. (Brian Marks)

PART ONE | PART TWO | PART THREE | PART FOUR | PART FIVE

Humans by birth. Gamers by choice. Goomba Stomp is a Canadian web publication that has been independently owned and operated since its inception in 2016.

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‘Weathering With You’ Isn’t Quite the Storm It Wanted to Be

Makoto Shinkai’s Weathering With You delivers a gorgeous film that doesn’t quite resonate as much as it wanted to.

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Weathering With You Hina

Climate change and global warming have been topics of concern and discussion for years now, with melting ice caps and rising ocean temperatures being some of many signs. Director Makoto Shinkai — acclaimed the world over for his 2016 work Your Name — aims to show just how at the mercy humans are to the weather with his newest animated film, Weathering With You. Although he presents a visually stunning depiction of Mother Nature in all her various moods, Weathering With You ultimately lacks the storming power it seeks to bear upon its audience.

Tokyo has been having a particularly rainy year, seeing precipitation almost every day and nary a sight of the sun or clear blue skies. It’s during this unusual time that high school boy Hodaka arrives in the metropolis seeking escape from the suffocating life he had on his island. The young teenager naturally has trouble finding his bearings on his own in the oftentimes unforgiving hustle and bustle of the city. It’s in these early scenes that Weathering With You has some of its strongest moments, depicting the uglier side of Japanese society not often seen in anime, while also highlighting Hodaka’s strength of character to make it on his own. 

Weathering With You Hodaka and Hina

As Hodaka gradually carves out his own place in the city, he eventually has an encounter with a young girl named Hina. Matching her sunny and cheerful disposition, Hina has the ability to make it stop raining and have the sunshine in very localized spots by praying to the sky. In a place where the rain never ceases, it’s easy to see why Hodaka latches onto Hina to use for the greater good (while also making a little pocket change along the way).

“The hand-drawn rain is downright mesmerizing in all its forms — fierce and calm — while the sunshine that follows seems to hang in the air caught by the leftover humidity.”

Gloomy skies and damp grounds can take their toll on one’s mood and psyche, which someone who lives in such a climate can surely relate to. Even the briefest moments of sunshine revitalize us and give a glimpse of the “light at the end of the tunnel.” Hodaka and Hina’s “100% Sunshine Girl” services to those in need of that light boldly underscore that fact, and make for a strong argument for how the weather affects us all beyond its objective physicality, along with providing some much-appreciated levity to the story. 

That power of weather is beautifully illustrated by CoMix Wave Films’ stupendous animation efforts. The hand-drawn rain is downright mesmerizing in all its forms — fierce and calm — while the sunshine that follows seems to hang in the air, caught by the leftover humidity. Tokyo itself isn’t to be outdone either, with its streets running the gamut between peaceful neighborhoods to grimy and dark back alleys with dilapidated buildings. The animation is punctuated by the return of Japanese band RADWIMPS, who create numerous memorable tracks to complement the wild swings in mood that weather can elicit.

That makes it all the more unfortunate, however, that the greater narrative is so weak.

The progression of Weathering With You is made painfully obvious right from the outset of the story — so much so that it’s hard to wonder if it’s actually the set-up for a bait-and-switch. As a result, much of the first half of the film is simply waiting for the other shoe to drop, making it difficult to really settle in and become intimate with its characters. 

Weathering With you Hodaka and Hina

This would be less of an issue if the cast had smaller interactions that were a delight to watch, but they fall short in that regard as well. All of the characters have a charm to them for sure — with Hina’s younger elementary school brother, Nagi, putting modern playboys to shame being a particular standout — but the story never quite makes a compelling case as to why they are as close as they are, especially Hina and Hodaka. They’re fun enough to watch be together, but don’t quite make that emotional attachment with the viewer that the story wants to create.

That lack of an emotional connection is distinctly felt in Weathering With You’s second act, when unnecessary confrontations and bizarre plot directions converge to create an artificial sense of stakes amidst a central conflict that would have been fine on its own. What’s meant to strengthen the impression of the characters’ bonds instead cheapens it, undermining the already faulty progress the first half did make. The result is a narrative that’s hard to care about, although its ending does leave the viewer with some potentially interesting questions to ponder.

Weathering With You is far from a bad movie, however. It has a clear direction and vision with a message to say about our climate crisis. The characters are endearing enough, and there are a handful of heartfelt scenes because of that. It also cannot be understated just how drop-dead gorgeous the animation is. The story, however, is simply too straightforward for its own good, resulting in an experience that is at times enjoyable, and at others plain boring.

And that’s only when being judged in a vacuum on the movie’s own merits. When compared to Shinkai’s recent masterpiece that is Your Name, it’s hard to see Weathering With You as anything but a disappointing follow-up. That’s perhaps the film’s greatest weakness, but fortunately, it’s one that Shinkai’s next work won’t have, and we can still look forward to it because of that fact.

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Let’s Remember Why ‘Tremors’ is a Beloved Cult Hit

The monster movie that breaks new ground.

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Tremors Movie Review

Tremors, 30 Years Later

Thirty years ago, this week, one of the best films of 1990 was released.

Tremors didn’t make a big splash in theaters. The film ended up grossing $16,667,084 at the domestic box office, which while making a profit due to its $11 million budget, was still below projected numbers. To be fair, this was a film about carnivorous subterranean worms— and it didn’t help that it was dumped in the cold of winter during what is arguably the slowest time of the year for the box office. Thankfully, however, Tremors found a second life on VHS where it became one of home video’s biggest success stories. More importantly, Tremors become a beloved cult hit.

The Script

Much has been said about the cast of Tremors which I’ll get to shortly, but what stood out the most watching it again, is the screenplay from S.S. Wilson and Brent Maddock, who both previously penned Short Circuit and Batteries Not Included. Sure, Tremors is a B movie, but it also boasts a tightly-knit script in which every scene; every action; every story beat; and every line of dialogue sets up a chain of events that gives every character a motive and reason to react the way they do. And despite one poorly executed sequence (I’m referring to the pole-vaulting montage), Tremors is a lean, mean movie without an ounce of fat to be found anywhere else.

Tremors Pole Vaulting Scene

The plot isn’t complex per se, but there’s something oddly comforting in the simplicity of it all. Tremors takes place in the Nevada desert near a small town called Perfection with a population of only 14 residents who are left to defend themselves against the deadly subterranean creatures. It’s the perfect setting for a monster film since the town itself is isolated. And with only one road leading to civilization, the openness of the desert landscape enhances the desolation of it all. And since the town of Perfection is so far removed from the rest of society, it soon becomes clear that nobody will ever come and save them. Instead, the townsfolk must work together; overcome the odds, and destroy the creatures. And when that fails, they must attempt to scale the rocky mountaintop where the worms are unable to travel underground. It’s getting there that becomes the problem.

Val and Earl - Tremors

Val and Earl

At the heart, and at the center of the eccentric cast of characters is Kevin Bacon and Fred Ward playing Valentine McKee and Earl Bass, a pair of modern-day cowboys working as handymen who become would-be heroes when they stumble upon the shock-sensitive killer worms. Over the years, the two actors have become less renowned for their comedic roles, but Tremors if anything, showcases their talent and range. And while Kevin Bacon with his sexy smile and pretty boy looks is by far the biggest star; it’s their irresistible chemistry that brings their characters to life. They make such a great comedic team and if you replaced Ward with any other actor at the time, there’s no guarantee that Tremors would have been this much fun to watch.

In fact, the two actors work so well together that Fred Ward provides a much better foil for Kevin Bacon than Finn Carter’s Rhonda, a.k.a. the underwritten love interest who is assigned to travel to the town and monitor the seismology readings in the desert. Not long after Rhonda arrives, the people in the town start disappearing – or worse, they end up dead, leaving very little time to establish any chemistry between her and Val— thus making the big kiss, in the end, feel a little out-of-place. But don’t blame the screenplay writers— the original ending of Tremors featured Val and Earl riding off into the sunset, with no hint at any potential romance between Val and Rhonda. Unfortunately, test audiences were not pleased and somehow the producers convinced the filmmakers to quickly reshoot the final scene— just another one of many examples of why studios should not rely on any focus group to provide feedback. In the end, the love interest feels somewhat lost in the shuffle.

Tremors Kevin Bacon and Finn Carter

The Gummer Family

It doesn’t take long before it becomes apparent that there’s something unnatural roaming the desert and feeding on human flesh. Once Rhonda checks her readings and determines that the threat is coming from underground, Tremors begins to slowly open up and introduce us to the supporting cast which includes Reba McEntire and Michael Gross as the Gummer family, a pair of overzealous, gun-crazy survivalists. McEntire and Gross are so good here, they essentially steal the spotlight from the rest of the cast. In one of their most memorable scenes, the two are forced to take shelter in their basement and defend themselves against one of the giant man-eating worms— and just when it looks like they are going to run out of ammunition, the camera pans left to reveal the bunker holds enough guns and firepower to accommodate a small army. It’s just one of many examples of how Tremors takes a simple concept and maximizes it for full effect.

As much as Tremors is remembered today for the performances of Bacon and Ward, it’s the work of the entire cast that brings the movie to life. It really is great casting considering the small budget, and everyone pulls their weight, serving up the quick-witted dialogue in a way that makes it all feel more natural– and yes that even includes Robert Jayne as the annoying teenage brat, Melvin Plug. I especially like the performance by Victor Wong, a character actor who had roles in films like 3 Ninjas and Big Trouble in Little China. Here he plays the ill-fated Walter Chang who is killed in a scene that features some of the film’s best special effects.

Director Ron Underwood

Tremors was the first movie Ron Underwood directed and by far his best. Now known as a go-to director for many successful TV shows, Underwood keeps things moving briskly and finds new clever ways to draw out tension with impressive camera work, especially the shots that show the point of view of the creatures as they stalk their victims. Along with Cinematographer Alexander Gruszynski, Underwood frames his exterior shots in a way that constantly reminds viewers how small the town is and how isolated it is. It’s also worth noting how difficult it is to shoot a horror movie outside in the middle of the desert where you can never truly escape the sunlight, and yet director Ron Underwood uses the setting to his advantage and frames his actors in such a manner that the landscape emits a general feeling of emptiness, which both mirrors the town’s small population and the people themselves who are desperate for a change.

Tremors evokes the populist spirit of ‘50s and ’60s B-movies without ever resorting to parody, nor does it ever feel familiar. Instead, Underwood reinvigorates its genre tropes with a finely balanced combination of horror and humor— and despite its tongue-in-cheek script, Underwood never allows it to venture into full-on camp. There is tension and suspense in every one of the action scenes and like many classics that came before it, Tremors focuses less on its oversized monsters and more on their victims and how these people react to attacks by these giant creatures. Even in the bright daylight, Tremors manages to create enough suspense to keep viewers at the edge of their seats.

Tremors 1990

Creature Design

Apart from taking inspiration from classic monster movies, Tremors owes a lot to Steven Spielberg’s Jaws— so much so, that the original title for Tremors was actually Land Sharks. Much like how the shark in Jaws travels underwater while stalking its prey, in Tremors, the 30-foot-long carnivorous worms known as Graboids, travel underground. And like Jaws (arguably the quintessential B movie), the creatures in Tremors are rarely seen. Instead, the largely invisible creatures can burrow fast enough to devour the entire town if given the opportunity— making them deadly and genuinely menacing.

Another clever inclusion by the screenplay writers was the idea to have these Graboids respond to seismic vibrations. While blind and unable to track their prey’s scent, they do have acute hearing, which means any slight movement or sound can cost you your life. In arguably the best scene of the entire film, Kevin Bacon’s Val is left to stand completely still and silent while the worm-like creatures who circle his feet reveal their razor-sharp fangs as they desperately search for their next victim.

Tremors 1990 Michael Gross

It’s a credit to the creature design that I never once questioned the reality of the Graboids. Along with a team of over 50 visual effects wizards, the filmmakers were able to bring their creations to life with a mix of old school prosthetics, animatronics, and computer-generated imagery. Tremors may be at times funny, but this isn’t the sort of film that has viewers pointing at the screen and laughing at obviously cheesy effects. Make no mistake about it: the monster effects by Tom Woodruff and Alec Gillis (who previously worked on Alien and The Terminator) is truly impressive, especially given the limited budget they had to work with.

Tremors Creature Design

Soundtrack

The one and only aspect of Tremors that I’ve never liked was the music heard at the start and at the end of the film. To my surprise, I later learned that composer Ernest Troaost’s musical score for the film went mostly unused since the studio didn’t like it and, later they hired composer Robert Folk to write a new score. Only a few of Troost’s country-themed songs made it into the final cut and sure enough, they are the songs I dislike. That said, Folk’s compositions perfectly match the visuals and heighten the suspense during the film’s most action-packed scenes.

Tremors 1990

Legacy

Tremors wasn’t in any way groundbreaking since it borrowed liberally from many other monster movies, yet somehow the film became such a hit, that it spawned four direct-to-video sequels (Tremors 2: Aftershocks, Tremors 3: Back to Perfection, Tremors 5: Bloodlines and Tremors: A Cold Day in Hell)— a direct-to-video prequel (Tremors 4: The Legend Begins), and even a television series. More so, the success of Tremors resulted in many copycats but none of them (save for James Gunn’s Slither) have been able to perfectly match the potent mixture of sharp dialogue, deadpan humour, and horror.

It’s easy to see why Tremors ultimately became a success and why it remains a fun and engaging experience, decades later. The plot is fully realized constantly keeping things exciting. It has plenty of spectacular set-pieces, thrilling action scenes, and plenty of quotable throwaway dialogue. Along with the charismatic cast, superb direction, great script and terrifyingly real effects, Tremors stands the test of time. Many have tried to match Tremors but most have ultimately come up short. Movies like this come around once every few years.

  • Ricky D
Tremors Movie Anniversary
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The Career of Tony Scott and His Influence on the Film Industry

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The Career of Tony Scott

In the late 1970s and 1980s, composer Giorgio Moroder was often accused of trying to replace the orchestral movie soundtrack with high-energy, synthesizer-heavy disco-pop laid on with a trowel in movies like Thank God It’s Friday (1978), Flashdance (1983), Scarface (1983), and Top Gun (1986). I remember a magazine story on Moroder which quoted one of his many critics as saying, “The day the music died, Giorgio Moroder was brought in for questioning.”

I think some people had the same opinion about movies and Tony Scott. Full disclosure: I’m one of them. But it would be greatly unfair to Scott, who died in 2012, not to admit that, for good or for ill, his 1980s feature work had an enormous impact on commercial filmmaking.

The younger brother of Ridley Scott by seven years, he was gifted – like his brother – with an outrageously good eye; a taste for the visual strong enough to earn him his master’s degree from London’s Royal College of Art (which he’d attended on scholarship no less). But painting didn’t pay well, so he joined with his brother in Ridley Scott Associates where, from the 1970s into the 1980s, he applied that eye to moving pictures, directing thousands of commercials, some of them still-talked-about all-time classics in the U.K.

His first feature was the visually sumptuous, dramatically wispy attempt at erotic vampirica, The Hunger (1983), and it was such a lambasted flop it’s a surprise Scott’s feature career didn’t end right there. But three years later, producer Jerry Bruckheimer tapped him to direct Top Gun and movies would never be the same.

It was a perfect marriage of sensibilities (along with Michael Bay, Scott would remain one of Bruckheimer’s go-to directors). Bruckheimer, whose youthful interest in photography had led him to his own career in commercials before turning to movies, had the same affinity for striking imagery as Scott.

The timing of the union was just right, too. MTV was only five years old, and the non-stop near-abstract visuals of music video were not only still hypnotically novel, but on their way to becoming the defining visual sensibility for a new movie-going generation. With Giorgio Moroder (another ideal wedding of sensibilities) supplying a Pop’s Top Ten-nish soundtrack, Scott put together montages that were, essentially, music videos woven into the narrative of the film (some critics carped that the whole movie was little more than an extended music video).

Top Gun 1986

Striking visuals, a pulsing, toe-tapping score, and a super-patriotic story that made a hero of a young, cocky, mouthy, go-my-own-way fighter jock made for a flick which hit a big, fat sweet spot with MTV’s first generation of ticket-buyers: Top Gun scored a whopping $176.7 million domestic. I did the math: at today’s ticket prices, that would translate to almost $390 million. Love it or hate it, you have to respect that kind of box office muscle.

Top Gun set the template for Scott: high-octane visuals, rapid-fire editing (often at the hands of Chris Lebenzon), an MTV-friendly soundtrack, and a story simple enough to absorb without having to pay too much attention.

It also set the template for so many of the box office winners of the next few decades, movies that moved fast, piled on the action, featured characters who were often little more than catchphrases with biceps, offered music video fodder (at least back when MTV still played music videos), and where plausibility – even under Hollywood’s extremely elastic definition of the concept – was irrelevant. Think Lethal Weapon, Speed (1994), Twister (1996), and anything by Michael Bay.

The Career of Tony Scott

Though his brother Ridley often took the same rap of favoring looks over substance, their styles, though both highly visual, were strikingly different.

Ridley’s films — good and bad – play out like classical music: stately, elegant, unrushed, somber.

Tony’s movies are rock ‘n’ roll: fast, loud, exhausting, sometimes painfully bright.

It’s hard to imagine Tony doing something as subdued as Ridley’s Napoleonic-era The Duelists (1977), or even pulling off the brooding sci-fi Gothicism of Alien (1979). By the same token, Ridley would have seemed a poor fit for Top Gun or all the running back and forth in Crimson Tide (1995).

Despite being regularly slammed for his storytelling, Scott did care about plot and character. Explaining the failure of Days of Thunder (1990) – Top Gun cloned to the NASCAR circuit – Scott diagnosed the problem as having started production without a finished script. “(You) always have to get a story,” he said, “and you’ve got to get character first…”

Tony Scott's Days of Thunder

But it wasn’t a sentiment that quite squared with his execution. In an Entertainment Weekly story about a trending flimsiness in big-screen storytelling, The Fan (1996) screenwriter Phoef Sutton told the story of shooting the movie’s climactic baseball game in a torrential downpour. Sutton and others tried to argue Scott out of it pointing out that baseball games are called on account of such weather. The rain stayed. Said Sutton: “…I don’t think Tony cared about the plausibility of it.”

In his later years, he seemed to be trying to reach for the kind of substance his early films were often accused of lacking, but he remained better at taking a good picture than giving it meaning. Enemy of the State (1998) was entertaining enough, but it was like Coppola’s The Conversation (1974) with the poetry removed and replaced with explosions and chases; Spy Game (2001) was an anemic John LeCarre wannabe; The Taking of Pelham 123 replaced the local color which had made the original so memorable with a needlessly busy yet flavorless plot.

Like his brother, Tony also produced, and in those projects, one could sense an ambition to do something of substance. There were such laudable efforts as the HBO movie RKO 281 (1999) about Orson Welles’ fight to make Citizen Kane; The Gathering Storm (2002), another HBO feature, this about Churchill’s attempts to prep England for WW II; Gettysburg (2001), a cable documentary about one of the most pivotal battles of the Civil War; and the lovely, elegiac (if sadly little-seen) Western, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.

Though Scott would continue to turn out some respectable earners in his later years (Déjà vu [2006], The Taking of Pelham 123, Unstoppable [2010]), after the 1980s, he’d never hit Top Gun heights again, and, in fact, after Beverly Hills Cop II (1987) only ever crossed the $100 million domestic mark one more time with Enemy of the State (1998). Perhaps the problem was that Scott’s eye-tickling rat-a-tat-tat style had, by the 1990s, become so widely copied that his often dramatically weak films had little else to offer; the trendsetter had become just another member of the pack.

But give him this. Few filmmakers make a lasting impact. Most directors and most films come and go, cinematic mayflies fluttering around the box office for a few weeks before disappearing. The same can’t be said of Tony Scott. Love ‘im or hate ‘im, it’ll be a long time before anyone forgets him.

– Bill Mesce

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