The 50 Best Films of the 2010s: Part Five
When the smoke finally cleared from our voting process, these last remaining films were the ones that stood the tallest among the carnage, impervious. While our staff could (and would again) debate the merits of nearly every other film that appears on this list, these are the cream of the crop that nearly everyone here at Goomba Stomp can agree has earned a place as one of the best films of the decade.
To earn a spot here required multiple, highly ranked votes; not an easy feat when there were so many beloved favorites from the 2010s. Yet here they are: our final choices for the Best Movies of the Decade. We hope you’ve enjoyed reading this list, and let us know your favorites from the decade. Here’s to hoping the ’20s will be even better!
Much has been said in this decade of what constitutes as cinema. Whilst some lament the current trend of superhero movies, declaring them too child-friendly for adults, others wish for the Academy Awards to include bigger films in the nominations — not just those geared towards an older audience. Ironically, at the start of the decade, Christopher Nolan proffered the question “Why not be both?” as he created both a genuine summer blockbuster and an intellectual puzzle, and in the process made it one of the most influential films of the past ten years.
To call Inception influential is perhaps an understatement (almost ten years on, and trailers still use a bombastic score akin to that of Hans Zimmer’s), but it isn’t at all difficult to see why. Heavy CGI effects are already in full swing, but due to Nolan’s preference of making his films as real and grounded as possible, some of the film’s most memorable moments come from practical effects — a breath of fresh air to a CG-heavy cinematic landscape.
Take, for example, Arthur’s (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) anti-gravity fight scene. Wrapped firmly between the dreams of a rolling vehicle and an exploding fortified hospital, a one hundred foot-long revolving corridor was constructed that saw the actors tethered to the walls to perform a carefully choreographed brawl, creating one of the most visually compelling action scenes in recent years, and avoiding the occasional murkiness that comes with computer generating entire humans. The result is all the more satisfying for the audience.
It’s not without heart, either. Embroiled within what is essentially Nolan’s take on Bond is Dom’s (Leonardo DiCaprio) desperation to get back to his children, and the grief and guilt over the death of his wife, Mal (Marion Cotillard), with which he must reconcile. A third-act confession of his true involvement in her demise is beautifully played by DiCaprio; it’s a subtler, more grounded performance from the actor, and his part provides the warmth the rest of the film lacks.
Inception remains one of the best films of the 2010s — not only for its imaginative special effects and great performances, but because it is one of the few blockbusters that asks you to sit up and pay attention. Holding up to repeat viewings, it is complex yet not convoluted, planted in your brain long after the credits roll. (Veronica Cooper)
9.) The Act of Killing
The Act of Killing, directed by Joshua Oppenheimer, is not only the best documentary of the decade, but it’s the bravest, the most audacious, and the most jaw-dropping. I’ve still never seen anything like it, and I doubt I ever will again.
Released in the U.S. in 2013, the film resulted from Oppenheimer and his collaborators — including Christine Cynn and an Indonesian co-director who remains anonymous, along with much of the crew — spending several years interviewing a group of local gangsters who led death squads in Indonesia in the mid-1960s. During the period of 1965 and 1966, the squads carried out mass killings that historians say victimized over a million people — mostly ethnic Chinese and those perceived to be communists.
These men, led by then-70-something Anwar Congo, were never punished in any way for those crimes, and are treated as national heroes in some quarters to this day. The Act of Killing shows Congo and the other gangsters, who had long said they were inspired by Hollywood movies, to actually re-enact their atrocities for the cameras.
So, we see them in costume, as well as on a television talk show and at a rally, where a current politician leads a bloodthirsty chant of “kill the Communists!”
The Act of Killing was nominated for a Best Documentary Oscar in 2014, losing to the music documentary Twenty Feet from Stardom — which, while a fine film, wasn’t nearly the achievement.
Riveting as it is horrifying, and even darkly funny at times, the film shows the men acting out their crimes, flirting with remorse, and even exerting influence on present-day politics. The Act of Killing and its follow-up — The Look of Silence, which arrived in theaters two years later — is a rare documentary that the filmmakers literally risked their lives to produce. (Stephen Silver)
The end of the world stops being scary when it starts to look like a relief. This is the conceit behind Melancholia, Lars Von Trier’s disturbing look into a woman’s final days battling her depression.
As an astral body prepares to slam into the Earth, ending all life as we know it, the people in Justine’s life deal with the oncoming tragedy in a variety of ways. Some are in denial, others are angry, and others still are sad. Justine, however, feels next to nothing. Paralyzed with depression, the closest thing she can feel to an emotion about the end of the world is relief; finally, it will all be over with.
Powered by Lars Von Trier’s magnificent eye and Kirsten Dunst’s bravado performance, Melancholia isn’t just a brutal look into what depression does to someone over an extended period of time, but also a tragicomic treatise on what the apocalypse might really look like to a divergent group of people. (Mike Worby)
7.) Inside Llewyn Davis
Joel and Ethan Coen had a pretty strong decade, but the best film they made in the 2010s was Inside Llewyn Davis, the Coens’ 2013 homage to New York’s downtown folk scene of the early 1960s.
Starring Oscar Isaac, a cat, a killer supporting cast that included Justin Timberlake, John Goodman, Carey Mulligan and Adam Driver, and a delightful soundtrack of mostly obscure period folk tunes assembled by frequent Coen collaborator T-Bone Burnett, the film tells a dark, somewhat nihilistic story about artistic ambitions that fall heartbreakingly short. The film is loosely based on the life of folk singer Dave Von Ronk.
Isaac’s Llewyn Davis is a talented singer/songwriter, but he’s still reeling from the death of Mikey, his singing partner, and struggling to make it as a solo act. Couch-surfing around New York City, Llewyn also struggles with money and just about every major relationship in his life.
It’s a rare movie set in the 1960s that’s not a pure exercise of boomer nostalgia, and it’s also far from a tale of underdog musical triumph. Everything we know about film conventions tells us that a third act road trip to Chicago will end happily, but what it leads to — F. Murray Abraham’s “I don’t see a lot of money here” — is a particular gut punch.
It’s become a cliche by now to rank their movies, but Inside Llewyn Davis goes alongside Fargo and No Country For Old Man as the very best of the Coens ’ work, one that tells the story of sonic failure through a soundtrack of sonic greatness, even before the Coens’ fellow Jewish Minnesotan shows up in the final scene.
The film was nominated for only two Academy Awards — for Best Cinematography and Best Sound Mixing — and an eligibility snafu kept the great “Please Mr. Kennedy” out of the Best Original Song category, but Llewyn Davis was the best film of 2013, and of the decade. Llewyn is the cat. (Stephen Silver)
No American director has ever been so obsessed with the nature of time as Richard Linklater. Whether it’s the real-time film Slacker, the underrated travelogue It’s Impossible to Learn to Plow by Reading Books, or the Before Trilogy, one can really feel the effect of time passing in his movies. Boyhood, which charts twelve years in the life of one boy and was filmed over the same course of time, takes this obsession to a new level.
It’s the boldest idea in a career full of them; its very existence is a miracle. Anything could’ve gone wrong — someone could have died in the midst of filming, or star Ellar Coltrane could’ve grown up to be a lousy actor. Instead, nearly everything across the film’s leisurely 166-minute runtime seems to go right, allowing us to see a person grow up right before our eyes. Taking a relaxed approach to storytelling, Linklater provides one of the most absorbing dramas of the 2010s.
For people born in the 90s, Boyhood plays like a documentary. Harry Potter comes out, Britney Spears is on the radio, and the Nintendo Wii dominates households; for many people across the world, it speaks to a very common shared understanding of life and experience, one made all the more special thanks to the way Linklater avoids the clichés — such as the big school prom — that dominates other American teen movies. Here it feels like experiencing a part of life itself. Containing acres of wisdom in its philosophizing dialogue, character moments, and narrative arc, Boyhood attempts to unravel the mysteries of existence. While this is, by definition, an impossible task, it gets closer than any other movie released this decade. With Linklater also committed to spending twenty years making a Sondheim musical, perhaps the Shakespeare of Austin, Texas can do it all over again. (Redmond Bacon)
5.) The Wolf of Wall Street
Maximalism has never looked so good as in Wolf of Wall Street, a three-hour extravaganza of excess. With endless amounts of cocaine, prostitution, swearing, and all-round bad-boy behaviour, it is a seductive look into hyper-capitalism run amok. Featuring Leonardo DiCaprio in a career-best performance as white-collar criminal Jordan Belfort, it sees Martin Scorsese return to the hyper-fast and grandiose tone of classics such as Goodfellas and Casino. Aided by both a hilarious Terrence Winter screenplay and characteristically brilliant editing from long-time collaborator Thelma Schoonmaker, the Wolf of Wall Street is easily the most fun had in the cinema all decade.
This is not just empty provocation. While some finance bros will see Belfort as a hero when they go out and wreck the town on Wall Street, in the City of London or Hong Kong, the film’s moral ambiguity trusts that the viewer is smart enough to tell the difference. By the end, Scorsese even turns the camera back on the audience, showing that there will always be people like Jordan Belfort as long as people like us keep buying his books and taking his sleaziness for wisdom. Made only five years after the worst financial crash since the 1920s, Wolf of Wall Street may be the defining work of the 10s.
The Wolf of Wall Street, made when Scorsese was turning 70, proves that age is no barrier to energy, prompting my belief that the 10s was actually the director’s best decade From the bone-chilling thrills of Shutter Island to the childlike wonder and 3D innovation of Hugo to the brutal religious inquiry of Silence to the haunting deconstruction of gangster tropes of The Irishman, Scorsese has worked in various modes and aced them all. Here’s hoping he continues to make great films throughout the next decade too. (Redmond Bacon)
4.) Get Out
In the great annals of horror movie history, there are plenty of examples of backward, racist Southerners being used to amp up the terror in otherwise unremarkable places like small towns or nice Suburban neighborhoods. Get Out seeks to utilize this same strategy, but in a different way. By making the racist bad guys liberals who genuinely think they’re doing a service to the black community, Get Out supplants the idea that racism only exists on the right — or in the South — and forces wearers of the “Good Guy Badge” to take a closer look at their reflection.
With stand-out performances from Daniel Kaluuya (Black Mirror), Allison Williams (Girls), and Catherine Keener (Being John Malkovich), Get Out is a surprisingly tight suspense-thriller that ratchets up the tension with great success throughout the entirety of its swift run time.
From Jordan Peele of all people (best known for his sketch comedy series, co-created with Keegan-Michael Key), a film like Get Out is a genuine surprise, and one that has been welcomed by audiences and critics almost unanimously. These kinds of new takes on racism as a plot device — and the place of the horror canon in general — are just what the genre needs every few years to remind folks that there’s still new ground waiting to be uncovered in this well-worn world of recurring horror tropes. (Mike Worby)
3.) The Social Network
Pulsing with calculated moments of revelation and regret, The Social Network doesn’t mince an abundance of (techno)babble in depicting writer Aaron Sorkin’s version of a Charles Foster Kane for the social media generation. His Mark Zuckerberg may analyze situations like a geeky Terminator, but behind the ability to deftly assess a market and skillfully place ones and zeros to satisfy it, there is a human yearning for something more emotional: an organic connection. Calculated, virtuoso direction from David Fincher peels back the layers of motivation for this future cyber magnate’s ascent to power, building toward a gut-punch of a finale that may not mirror actual events, but unflinchingly reflects real life.
Of course, to get to that point, one must first be able to put up with the egos in the room. Right off the bat, The Social Network lets audiences know that it’s much smarter than them, mimicking the speedy thought process of its protagonist with a likewise blistering conversation pace. Dialogue is raced through as if characters are annoyed at having to vocalize in the first place; these people are on another level, and mere mortals will need to pay close attention if they’re to have a chance at keeping up. It’s all designed to impress, of course (and get through a gloriously wordy script in an acceptable running time), much like Zuckerberg himself. His genius is without question; so why is he constantly trying to prove it?
A fascinating inferiority complex is at the cold heart of The Social Network, born out of technical supremacy that’s frustrated by its inability to fully understand or connect to the human-machine. That connection is Zuckerberg’s tragic Rosebud; what doesn’t compute is that the higher he climbs on the ladder of success, the further he distances himself from what he seems to want the most — and the more stunning The Social Network‘s character study becomes. (Patrick Murphy)
In some ways, Moonlight feels as if it has always existed. Barry Jenkins’ opus wasn’t just a statement that signaled a power shift for unseen identities on film — it was a marker on the timeline of the medium itself. We had been building toward this through all our ignorance and neglect. Moonlight was the film we deserved in 2016, and possibly the one we still need the most in a world consistently on fire. If such an extrapolation feels grandiose, it’s only because the film is monumental in its intimacy, explicating quotidian suffering without descending into preachy awards bait. So much could have gone wrong with its story of a closeted black youth, told through a triptych of visually sumptuous periods in his life.
Perhaps it soars because its inspiration is more Eastern than Western (Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s Three Times is a heavy influence); uncomfortable confrontations between characters play like set pieces, as color and music bleed through each story like sense memory, and empathy drives every aching performance. Moonlight was not new for blackness or for masculinity, but it was new for the world of film. It’s not enough to be seen, but felt as well. Close your eyes, and it might just be the film you feel most out of the 2010s. (Shane Ramirez)
1.) Mad Max: Fury Road
A magnificent symphony of maddening chaos tethered to the dusty earth by heartfelt emotion and pristine visual clarity, George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road is the knockout cinematic achievement of the decade. The surprising return of Max Rockatansky doesn’t waste a frame in telling its simple story of an apocalypse survivor increasingly tormented by visions of his past, and the unrelenting pace of this nearly feature-length vehicular chase is exhausting in a way that can only be caused by exhilaration. Supreme craft is on display all around here, from searing photography to meticulous editing to amazing stunts to towering performances. Everything is larger than life; this is epic movie-making.
Most impressive might be Miller’s confidence in centering his story not around his ceaselessly beleaguered hero, but instead around Charlize Theron’s Imperator Furiosa, whose mission to save the harem of a brutal warlord is really a plight to save herself, and thereby possibly restore some stability to all the disintegration. She is the soul of Fury Road, the most human character in the film, and serves to brilliantly counteract the otherwise alien atmosphere. Meanwhile, Max has never been more silent, but he becomes somewhat of an all-powerful observer — a stand-in whose expressions often translate for an audience trying to understand exactly what the hell is going on here between all the stick-shifting, bullet-firing, and flamethrower-guitaring perpetrated by pale ‘War Boys’ who spray their faces with chrome paint in hopes of a vaunted afterlife.
And yet, somehow Miller communicates even the most bizarre aspects of his tale, more often than not without the kind of expository dialogue sci-fi films tend to teem with. Instead, he utilizes impeccable staging to establish a coherent space, carefully composes his characters in ways that wordlessly convey relationships, and holds just the right shots for maximum emotional impact; the editing here is a marvel in itself, and somehow never spirals out of control thanks to framing that puts the image’s focus at dead center, allowing our eyes to instinctively know where to look even after a quick cut.
Awe-inspiring as the technicalities are (future filmmakers will surely be studying this one), Mad Max: Fury Road is not a sterile experience, but a visceral one. Feel the rumbling engines, bath in the ocean of dunes, smell the sweat mixed with grease, and taste the gravelly soil. Starkly beautiful, surprisingly poignant, entertainingly off-kilter, and bone-shakingly intense, Mad Max: Fury Road is an action movie for the ages, and for all time. (Patrick Murphy)
PART ONE | PART TWO | PART THREE | PART FOUR | PART FIVE
‘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.
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.
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.
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.
Let’s Remember Why ‘Tremors’ is a Beloved Cult Hit
The monster movie that breaks new ground.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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
The Career of Tony Scott and His Influence on the Film Industry
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).
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.
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…”
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 , The Taking of Pelham 123, Unstoppable ), 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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