DID YOU READ

List: The Best Films of 2008

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12192008_wendyandlucy.jpgIt feels completely appropriate in a year of incredible financial turmoil, particularly in the independent film sector, that so many good movies were made about people teetering on the edge of economic extinction. My own list features two such films, without even getting around to “Slumdog Millionaire,” “Frozen River” or the small but immensely powerful “Shotgun Stories.” Movie stars were feeling the pinch, too: in the semiautobiographical “JCVD,” audiences saw faded action hero Jean-Claude Van Damme resorting to begging his agent for money to pay for his divorce.

Stars, and studios too. Even before the bottom fell out of the economy, Hollywood studios were beginning to shutter their indie divisions; Paramount eliminated Vantage, Warner Brothers closed Picturehouse and Warner Independent and absorbed New Line. It wasn’t much better for smaller distributors: David O. Russell’s upcoming “Nailed” was in the news all summer because its production kept getting shut down by unions whose members weren’t getting paid by financier Capitol Films, whose subsidiary ThinkFilm had its own cash problems this year, when they couldn’t afford to purchase newspaper ads the Friday of the opening of their release “Then She Found Me.” Just last week the Yari Film Group filed for bankruptcy. Their big hit from a few years ago? “Crash.” There were weeks when the entire independent film world seemed embodied by Michelle Williams’ penniless drifter in “Wendy and Lucy:” every move they made seemed to draw them inexorably deeper into the financial quicksand.

There wasn’t exactly an artistic crash to match, but you could argue that the movies suffered a very mild creative recession in 2008. Strong as this year’s slate was, few if any equaled the remarkable heights of last year’s “No Country For Old Men” or “Zodiac.” On a personal level, I found myself on the outside looking in at a lot of the consensus critical hits: I thought both “Slumdog” and “WALL-E” started as strongly as any movie this year, but tapered off over the course of extremely disappointing final acts. Critical consensus may be a thing of the past anyway soon, the way newspaper and magazine film critics are losing their jobs.

Despite all of that gloominess, there was still much to celebrate in the movies of 2008. It was a year of impressive comebacks (JCVD himself for one, the magnetic fallen star of my number five film for another), of great dysfunctional onscreen families (my numbers two and ten), and more innovation in the documentary form (numbers one and nine). Some special movies even found ways to ask important questions of audiences, even as they entertained us: how far should the law go to stop a criminal (number three)? What does certainty mean in the absence of proof (number eight)?

In dark times, movies have always provided an escape. Even in an “off year” like this one, these ten films, plus the ones provided by my colleagues Alison Willmore and Michael Atkinson, gave us that and so much more.

12192008_mywinnipeg.jpg1. My Winnipeg
In the four years I’ve made top ten lists here on IFC.com, an IFC Film has never appeared even once, a convenient way to avoid accusations of a conflict of interest. I’ll risk them in this case because no movie I saw in 2008 was as exciting, imaginative, hysterically funny or hysterically sad as “My Winnipeg.” Guy Maddin was hired to direct a documentary to his hometown, a place he describes, with a good deal of pride, as “the strangest city in North America,” but wound up delivering a “docu-fantasia” where dream logic prevails, sleepwalking is a recurring motif and local history blends with myth and even parts of Maddin’s own childhood. In repeatedly returning to the image of a man on a train heading out of Winnipeg that can never quite break free from the city’s gravitational orbit, the film becomes a delightful piece of escapism on its subject’s inability to escape his past or his beloved home.

2. Rachel Getting Married
Jonathan Demme felt Jenny Lumet’s unique screenplay about a very dysfunctional family’s reunion for one of its daughters’ wedding deserved a visual strategy equally unusual. Shooting digitally with a minimum of crew and equipment he not only imbued the film with the feeling that the camera was a fly-on-the-wall videographer capturing the essential moments of this remarkable wedding, but he also brought out the raw, naturalistic beauty of digital photography in the way few filmmakers have.

3. The Dark Knight
Christopher Nolan’s superior sequel to his impressive “Batman Begins” was almost as much fun to discuss as it was to watch. In the moment, there were the expansive chase and fight sequences (even more stunning in IMAX) and Heath Ledger’s truly terrifying performance as The Joker. Afterwards, you debated movie’s message about the murky moral waters the film’s hero swims in to achieve his goal (extreme wiretapping, prisoner torture and the like). So many people focused on the question of whether Batman was supposed to represent President Bush that they missed the other possible parallel: that of district attorney Harvey Dent, whose courage under fire unites a frazzled community before checks out of reality completely and starts letting others make his decisions for him.

4. Wendy and Lucy
Watching director Kelly Reichardt’s minimalist masterpiece about a young woman searching for her lost dog is like savoring a fine wine; it’s about appreciating subtle flavors, nuances and clarity. Let those who would dismiss the film as “too small” have their gallons boxes of rubbish; “Wendy and Lucy” is vintage American independent filmmaking.

12192008_thewrestler.jpg5. The Wrestler
This beautifully sad film, simultaneously depressing and uplifting, was shot and set in the decaying suburbs and beach towns of New Jersey, and looks and feels like the movie the Dardennes might have made if they grew up as WWF fans in the 1980s. Mickey Rourke, using his own faded film career as his inspiration, groans and grunts with every step: for his Randy “The Ram” Robinson the very act of living day to day is a struggle greater than any Saturday Night’s Main Event. Real (fake) wrestling could only wish it was this emotionally devastating.

6. Milk
How can we ever explain Josh Brolin’s remarkable mid-career relevance? For so long he was that guy who looked like his dad and made schlocky movies, but now, out of nowhere, he’s the most interesting actor in Hollywood. He’s like the acting equivalent of a baseball player who discovers HGH at age 37 and suddenly hits 60 home runs in a season. In Gus Van Sant’s beautiful and incredibly timely biopic “Milk” he steals scene after scene as troubled San Francisco supervisor Dan White, and he’s stealing from Sean Penn, who’s giving the performance of a career full of career performances.

7. Let the Right One In
The rare horror film that’s many different kinds of scary. It’s creepy scary (as in the relationship between 12-year-old vampire Eli and the man who might be her father, caretaker, or — worst of all — a former boyfriend), it’s gross-out scary (like the scene where Eli bleeds from every pore of her body because she’s entered a house uninvited), it’s shocking scary (like the gorefest finale at the swimming pool).

8. Doubt
It’s common to see a movie with several great performances — most of the movies on this list qualify — but how often do you a movie with nothing but great performances? In “Doubt” all four leads — Meryl Streep, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams and Viola Davis — were equally outstanding. The film’s titular theme, elucidated in a crisp screenplay from director and source material playwright John Patrick Shanley, couldn’t be more timely, either.

9. Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father
Kurt Kuenne set out to make a documentary as a tribute to his murdered friend Andrew Bagby, and became a witness to a series of events involving the people he left behind so impossibly tragic that they would seem laughably contrived in a fiction film (the fact that the woman suspected in the Bagby murder turns out to be an ex-girlfriend AND is carrying his unborn son is just the very tip of the iceberg). You could argue that by withholding certain information about where his story is going to heighten its emotional impact, Kuenne isn’t playing fair. But then, as this movie shows so powerfully, life rarely does.

12192008_achristmastale.jpg10. A Christmas Tale
Only a filmmaker as talented and as daring as Arnaud Desplechin could make such a warm comedy out of terminal cancer. “A Christmas Tale”‘s barebones description — an estranged family returns home for the first time in years because the matriarch is dying of cancer and a bone-marrow donor is needed — sounds like a downer. But Despleschin’s technique, including (but not limited to) flashback, narration, split-screen, irises, dissolves, direct address, plays within the film – makes the film one of the liveliest (and alive-est, if we can pretend for a moment that that’s a word) of the year.

Honorable mentions (in alphabetical order): The Bank Job, Burn After Reading, Chicago 10, Encounters at the End of the World, The Fall, Pineapple Express, Quid Pro Quo, Shotgun Stories, Snow Angels, Step Brothers.

Alison Willmore

It wasn’t a disappointing year so much as one without surprises — while 2008 had its share of fine films, there was nothing audacious that arrived out of nowhere to knock my socks off, to show me something new. Arnaud Desplechin’s “A Christmas Tale” was one of the few that felt truly electric, the dysfunctional family gathering chestnut filtered through an insanely cinematic prism, a far richer, larger-than-life Gallic one-upping of Demme’s uneven and staunchly naturalistic “Rachel Getting Married.”

Gus Van Sant contributed the headily semi-experimental “Paranoid Park,” but it was “Milk,” his return to not just traditional narrative but the claustrophobic confines of the biopic, that was unexpectedly appealing, a portrait of a martyr to a cause that never lost sight of the flesh and blood humanity of its subjects. “Happy-Go-Lucky” and “Frownland” were combative, with infuriating main characters that challenged your ability to sympathize — initially, for the former, and quite possible ever for the latter. And “Wendy and Lucy” and “The Order of Myths” offered, through their incisive observations of a fictional girl who loses her dog and a very real and still racially segregated southern celebration, deep focus ruminations on where we are as a nation. The majority of the films on the list below I first saw over half a year ago — due to the nature of the festival circuit, sure, but also to the fact that the more recent releases that have been clustered in the current award season have been letdowns.

1. A Christmas Tale
2. Wendy and Lucy
3. Paranoid Park
4. Happy-Go-Lucky
12192008_milk.jpg5. Silent Light
6. The Order of Myths
7. Frownland
8. Milk
9. Momma’s Man
10. Reprise

Honorable mentions, in alphabetical order: Flight of the Red Balloon, Love Songs, My Winnipeg, Snow Angels, Vicky Cristina Barcelona, WALL-E, Waltz with Bashir, Woman on the Beach, The Wrestler

Michael Atkinson

As usual these days (but not, notably, last year), 2008 was rescued by the Asians, even if they didn’t remain in Asia proper. Otherwise, my list looks like a clear vote for the new wave-ist upsurge in minimalist realism/realist minimalism, Asian or American, which always seems all the more remarkable when compared in taste tests with Hollywood parade floats and middle-class-middle-age-courting Euro-dramas, which if anything often resemble the unbearable U.S. studio product of decades past. A cinema of idiosyncratic personal force overshadows the products of the machine, even as the “specialty” venues dwindle.

1. My Winnipeg
2. Ballast
3. Wendy and Lucy
4. Silent Light
5. Still Life
6. Waltz with Bashir
7. Flight of the Red Balloon
8. The Wrestler
9. Synecdoche, New York
10. My Blueberry Nights

Honorable mentions, in order: Times and Winds, The Duchess of Langeais, WALL-E, Appaloosa, Che, Alexandra, Pineapple Express, Jellyfish, Milk, The Edge of Heaven, Boy A, My Father My Lord, Encounters at the End of the World, Snow Angels, Chop Shop, Stuff and Dough, In Bruges

[Photos: “Wendy and Lucy,” Oscilloscope Pictures, 2008; “My Winnipeg,” IFC Films, 2008; “The Wrestler,” Fox Searchlight, 2008; “A Christmas Tale,” IFC Films, 2008; “Milk,” Focus Features, 2008]

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Bulworth Warren Beatty

Choose or Lose

The Funniest Political Comedies From the ’90s

Documentary Now! tackles '90s politics with "The Bunker," premiering September 14th at 10P on IFC.

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Photo Credit: 20th Century Fox/Everett Collection

While this election season seems like the greatest source of political comedy ever, it’s got nothing on the ’90s. During the original recipe Clinton Era, there were a large number of films that shined a light on the dark humor of politics.

As we gear up for the September 14th premiere of “The Bunker,” the season premiere episode of Documentary Now! that takes a look back at the tumultuous 1992 Ohio Governor race, let’s flashback to a simpler time when Donald Trump was just a rich guy happy to be in Home Alone 2. It was the time of flannel shirts, Beavis and Butt-head and politicians with their heads up their own butts. Grab some Crystal Pepsi and check out the funniest political comedies of the ’90s.

10. My Fellow Americans (1996)

Legendary actors James Garner and Jack Lemmon play two politically opposite ex-Presidents thrust together in an attempt to prove that the current President (played by Dan Aykroyd) is behind a bribery scandal that Lemmon’s Pres. Kramer is being framed for. My Fellow Americans was supposed to star Lemmon and his Grumpy Old Men costar Walter Matthau, who backed out of the project due to health problems. As great a duo as they were, James Garner seemed like the perfect choice for Pres. Douglas — with his natural Southern charm, his character is like an older Bill Clinton.


9. The Distinguished Gentleman (1992)

The Distinguished Gentleman might be the last movie you would shout out if you were ever on Family Feud and “Eddie Murphy movies” was a category, but it’s still a fun comedy with Eddie bringing the cool factor that made him a huge star in the ’80s. Here Murphy plays a con man who decides to run for a Florida Congressional seat because he shares the same name as the congressman in his district up for re-election who just died of a heart attack. After getting the backing of a Florida seniors organization (the Silver Foxes), Murphy’s appropriately named Thomas Jefferson Johnson runs as the “name you know” and ends up winning. He starts out buying into the idea of “playing the game” in order to get paid by lobbyists but eventually ends up changing his con-man ways. Hey, it’s a ’90s Eddie Murphy comedy. Things tended to work out in Eddie’s favor.


8. Black Sheep (1996)

The second buddy road trip comedy starring Chris Farley and David Spade suffers from being compared to the much funnier Tommy Boy, but there are still some hilarious moments here. Farley, in one of his final roles, plays Mike Donnelly, a well-meaning but goofy mess who manages to repeatedly muck up his brother’s campaign for Governor. Casting Tim Matheson, of Animal House fame, as the smarter and handsomer brother was a great choice and Farley and Spade get into plenty of shenanigans including encountering Gary Busey as a crazed Vietnam Vet. The scene where Farley takes the stage at a “Rock the Vote” concert will have you snorting Crystal Pepsi out of your nose.


7. The American President (1995)

Before he created The West Wing, Aaron Sorkin honed his presidential speech writing skills with the screenplay for The American President, a romantic comedy where Michael Douglas’ single Prez romances Annette Bening’s plucky environmental lobbyist. Directed by rom-com master Rob Reiner, the movie is loaded with sweet and funny moments, like when Pres. Shepherd (Douglas) calls Sydney (Bening) to ask her out the first time and she hangs up thinking it’s a prank call. We even get a sneak peek of President Bartlett, as Martin Sheen turns up as Shepherd’s no-nonsense his Chief-of-Staff. Sorkin claims he wrote the screenplay during a time when he smoked a crack. If that’s the case, every screenwriter should be give that method a try.


6. Wag the Dog (1997)

Before Dustin Hoffman joined Robert De Niro’s “circle of trust” in Meet the Fockers, the legendary actors co-starred in the David Mamet-scripted dark comedy Wag the Dog. You can’t capture the era of ’90s politics better than a film dealing with the cover-up of a Presidential sex scandal. Oddly, the movie actually came out before Monica Lewinsky and her dress entered the minds of Americans. Today, the plot of Wag the Dog might be an episode of Scandal, but if you look back to 1997, it was a biting political satire of what goes on behind-the-scenes of power and politics. De Niro plays D.C. spin-doctor Conrad Bean, who hires a Hollywood producer to stage a fake war in Albania as a distraction to help insure the President’s re-election. In a stellar cast that also includes Anne Heche and Woody Harrelson as a psychotic ex-soldier turned war hero, Hoffman stands out as a Hollywood bigwig who has a strong resemblance to Godfather producer Robert Evans. (Look for Bill Hader’s take on Evans in the new season of Documentary Now!.)


5. Bulworth (1998)

Warren Beatty was born with the looks of a guy who should run for Senate, and in Bulworth he plays a veteran senator who has lost his way and hires a hit man to kill him. Faced with his impending death, Senator Bulworth has an almost religious conversion to honesty and starts railing against the corruption of corporate money in politics. (We imagine Bernie Sanders has this one in his Netflix queue.) Like a lot of ’90s movies comedies, there is a gimmicky scene where Bulworth raps during a speech. Still, the film is so sharply written, the scene is both hilarious and a prescient look at the way white establishment types would go on to co-opt hip-hop culture.


4. Bob Roberts (1992)

If you love a good mockumentary with conservative folk songs (who doesn’t?), Bob Roberts is the movie for you. Tim Robbins wrote, directed and starred in this underrated comedy, which was inspired by a SNL sketch he had appeared in a few years earlier. Bob Roberts is a folk-singing, conservative self-made millionaire running for Congress in Pennsylvania who appears to be 100% All-American. Robbins is great at using his wholesome grin to mask the fact that his character is a drug smuggling tyrant with fits of rage. Look for everyone from Alan Rickman as Roberts’ campaign manager to a young Jack Black (see above) as a scarily enthusiastic fan.


3. Dick (1999)

Before the Watergate scandal informant was revealed, there were plenty of theories over the years as to who “Deep Throat” really was. The 1999 comedy Dick posits a possible alternate history of Nixon’s downfall as it follows two adorably upbeat and politically clueless teenage girls (energetically played by Kirsten Dunst and Michelle Williams) who randomly become “Tricky” Dick’s dog walkers after ending up meeting him on a White House field trip. Over the course of the rollicking disco-fied comedy the girls come in contact with every player in the infamous White House scandal, including a hilarious Woodward and Bernstein, played by Will Ferrell and Bruce McCulloch of Kids in the Hall fame. (The duo’s ’70s hair alone is worth watching for.) Dan Hedaya is perfectly cast as Nixon, showcasing a softer side of the infamous president after he unwittingly eats some pot cookies. An underrated comedy, Dick is a blast of ’70s fun and a great showcase for its cast of rising stars.


2. Dave (1993)

Dave is a classic everyman-turned-hero story with a winning Kevin Kline as an affable guy who just happens to be a dead-ringer for the leader of the free world. When Pres. Mitchell has a stroke while fooling around with his mistress, his Chief of Staff (Frank Langella) hatches a plan to temporarily have Kline’s Dave fill in for the President. Langella and Kline are great together, and the scene where Dave calls his accountant friend (played by Charles Grodin) to come over to the White House and balance the budget is just one of the sharp ways director Ivan Reitman and screenwriter Gary Ross (Big) poke fun at politics. Look for Sigourney Weaver, reteaming with Reitman after the Ghostbusters movies, as the First Lady who slowly begins to realize something is off about her Husband-in-Chief.


1. Election (1999)

If you think national politics is cutthroat, just wait until you meet high school president candidate Tracy Flick. Tracy, as played by Reese Witherspoon, is like a teenage version of Amy Poehler’s Leslie Knope, but without the likeable personality. Mathew Broderick hits all the right notes as the teacher who starts off being respected but finds his whole life falling apart while overseeing the election. A dark comedy that shows the downside of driven political candidates, Election is a film that remains topical with every new voting season.

Watch MTV’s Tabitha Soren covering the heated 1992 Ohio Governor race below. To find out who wins, catch the season premiere of Documentary Now! September 14th at 10P on IFC.

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Aubrey Plaza Safety Not Guaranteed

Out of Time

10 Underrated Time Travel Movies You Need to See

Catch the Bill & Ted movies Friday starting at 6P during IFC's Rotten Fridays.

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Photo Credit: FilmDistrict/courtesy Everett Collection

Reading a list of blockbuster time travel movies is like taking a trip back to our childhood. The Terminator. Back to the Future. Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure. So many movies we spent countless hours obsessing over. With the Bill & Ted movies airing on IFC this month, we got to thinking about what other time travel flicks are out there that may have been missed. From head scratching comedies to experimental documentaries, these time travel movies aren’t household names, but should be. As you revisit Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure and Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey during IFC’s Rotten Fridays, here are a few more films to check out for a most excellent time.

10. Frequently Asked Questions About Time Travel

This playful yarn, clearly influenced by Shaun of the Dead and the films of Edgar Wright, is worth a Saturday afternoon on the couch. Mixing laughs and heart, the twisty time travel story sees our drunk heroes start their night at the pub where they run into an American girl (played by Anna Farris) who claims to have a time machine built into her body. She’s there to prevent a “time leak,” but ends up involving the lads in a meandering tale that sees them fighting to stop the end of the world. A light trifle of a comedy, it’s got a fun cast fronted by Chris O’Dowd, and enough time travel twists to keep you guessing.


9. Project Almanac

Found footage flicks have sort of run their course, but occasionally one pops up that does something fun with the genre. Dean Israelite’s high school time travel movie doesn’t necessarily reinvent the wheel, but he tells a surprisingly gripping story of a kid who sees himself in a home video from his childhood, and then finishes his father’s experiment in the garage so he can make that footage come true. A story about being careful what you wish for, the fun of this movie is in the way it shows what most teens would do if a time machine all of a sudden plopped onto their laps — namely, hit on girls and go to Imagine Dragon concerts, and how that could quickly unravel the very thread of existence. A fun flick for the teen in all of us, Project Almanac is worth a watch when you’re craving some lighthearted time traveling vibes.


8. Predestination

Ethan Hawke has made a career out of vacillating between passion projects and blockbusters for the masses. His 2014 sci-fi drama Predestination, based on a short story by Starship Troopers author Robert A. Heinlein, isn’t easy to explain without giving away spoilers, but if you love the head scratching concept of time travelers creating a past that eventually creates them, this is the movie for you. While it failed to set the box office on fire, its 84% rating on Rotten Tomatoes should tell you that Predestination is destined to become a cult classic.


7. Sound of My Voice

A Sundance hit, this indie drama centers on the question of how would you react if someone claimed to be a time traveler from the future with all the answers to life. More psychological thriller than twisty time travel romp, director/cowriter Zal Batmanglij’s film explores the human need to believe, and what that makes us capable of. With a stripped down style that has one foot in sci-fi and another in the spiritual realm, this movie isn’t afraid to challenge its audience, and for that alone it’s worth checking out.


6. Time After Time

HG Wells! Jack the Ripper! Disco! This somewhat forgotten 1979 romp isn’t exactly a masterpiece, but for a goofy trip through the “Me Decade” of bushy mustaches and bulbous bell-bottoms you aren’t going to do much better. With genre standouts Malcolm McDowell and David Warner fronting the movie, and a charming Mary Steenburgen playing the love interest of HG Wells years before she would fall for another time traveler in Back to the Future III, director Nicholas Meyer’s (Star Trek II: The Wrath Khan) film has enough acting gravitas to sell the campy concept and ridiculously cheap thrills. If you’ve always wanted your time travel movies to feel like a Three’s Company episode about time travel and serial killers, this is definitely one to add to your queue.


5. Timecrimes

Timecrimes (or Los Cronocrímenes) is a Spanish-language film about a hapless husband who accidentally travels an hour back in time, and slowly realizes that he may be responsible for some awful crimes as a result of his trip. A puzzle of a film, the joy in watching it is peeling back layer after layer of surprising twists, as our hero becomes a villain and then back again. A truly unique film with a sadistic streak, writer/director Nacho Vigalondo uses time travel to explore why we always seem to be our own worst enemies. David Cronenberg was rumored to be making an English language version of Timecrimes at one point, and if the master of body horror was sniffing around this movie, you know you’re in for a nasty treat.


4. Primer

With a budget of just $7,000, there’s no earthly reason why Primer is as effective as it ends up being. Winner of the Grand Jury Prize at the 2004 Sundance Film Festival, this low budget mindbender follows two engineers who accidentally discover time travel. Heavy with the supposed science behind their invention, and delivered with a dry, spare style, this movie’s complex plot is really an excuse to explore a fundamentally human question: What makes you you? Director Shane Carruth, a former engineer with a degree in mathematics, also starred in the movie, wrote it, scored it, and edited it, and the bare bones style is part of the fun here. With a heady plot fans are still debating, Primer is about as far from a dumbed-down Hollywood blockbuster as you can get. You’re going to need your own time machine to watch this gem a few times before it really starts to make sense.


3. Safety Not Guaranteed

Director Colin Trevorrow has become one of the biggest names in Hollywood — helming the recent smash hit Jurassic World and due to direct Star Wars: Episode IX — but it all started with this small, character-based comedy about a man who places an ad in the back of a newspaper asking someone to join him on a trip through time. With few special effects or time travel twists, this movie rests on the backs of its ensemble, a likable mix of Mark Duplass, Aubrey Plaza and Jake Johnson. A movie for genre and non-genre fans alike, this one is for the dreamers in all of us, and the cynics who would rather just have a stiff drink.


2. La Jetee

French New Wave cinema isn’t the first thing you think of when it comes to time travel, but this 1962 short film from writer/director Chris Maker takes the conventions of the genre and runs them through a psychologically surreal blender. Set in a post-apocalyptic future, the story centers on a prisoner who’s returned to a traumatic moment from his childhood in an attempt to save the world. Using still imagery and the conventions of a documentary, the film is only 28 minutes long. Still, for such a short run time, it rewrote the rules of the genre, and inspired countless future filmmakers, most notably Terry Gilliam for his classic sci-fi thriller 12 Monkeys.


1. The Girl Who Leapt Through Time

A modern anime classic, this 2006 Japanese film is a sequel to the novel of the same name. Much like Project Almanac, it explores the idea of a teenager discovering time travel, and using it for her own selfish whims. Retaking exams, mastering karaoke and keeping a buddy in the “friend zone” are the motivations here. A highly relatable story with lush animation, this reverse Groundhog Day tells the tale of one girl trying to keep her innocent, perfect high school world the same forever, and slowly realizing that life always moves on.

Catch Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey this Friday at 8P on IFC’s Rotten Fridays!

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Leslie Nielsen Naked Gun trilogy

Nielsen Ratings

10 Leslie Nielsen Comedies Ranked From Best to Worst

Catch the Naked Gun movies this month on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Paramount Pictures/courtesy Everett Collection

Leslie Nielsen has had a long and varied career with his comedies being some of the best of all time. But not every film was a winner, with his Rotten Tomatoes scores ranging from 97% to 0%. So, as you enjoy The Naked Gun movies this month on IFC, you can reflect upon the highs and lows of everyone’s favorite straight man.

1. Airplane!

Paramount
Paramount Pictures

Airplane! is one of the best comedies of all time and managed two historic feats: It popularized the film parody genre and introduced the world to the comedy side of Leslie Nielsen. Though Nielsen was already a very successful actor — playing mostly romantic leads, captains and cops — Airplane! was the first example of his stellar deadpan delivery. With a bevy of classic quotes, critics and audiences agreed that this was surely a seminal comedy. But don’t call him Shirley.


2. The Naked Gun: From the Files from the Police Squad!

Based on the underrated freeze-frame filled TV show Police Squad!, Leslie Nielsen honed his performance of Lt. Frank Drebin in The Naked Gun. His most definitive character, the first Naked Gun is just as funny today as it was in 1988. The memorable moments are endless, from “Nice beaver” to Drebin’s enthusiastic appearance as a baseball umpire. Though many more parody films were made, none ever topped this take down of cop dramas. (Click here to see all airings of The Naked Gun on IFC.)


3. The Naked Gun 2 1/2: The Smell of Fear

Paramount
Paramount Pictures

Though the sequel doesn’t match the original, it still features tons of the high-level slapstick and absurd dialogue that we came to love from the Leslie Nielsen parody genre. Plus, this one features Robert Goulet as a criminal mastermind, so it certainly gets point for that.


4. The Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult

Paramount
Paramount Pictures

Usually, comedy trilogies end on a disappointing note. (Looking at you, Hangover III!). But even though Naked Gun 33 1/3 was critically panned, its mix of crass jokes and “celebrity” cameos helped it to be chosen as one of IFC and Rotten Tomatoes’ movies that are “too rotten to miss.” Fans of the series get great moments of Frank going undercover in jail and ruining a dance routine at the Academy Awards. Most importantly, it has the best sequel title since Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo.


5. Wrongfully Accused

Warner Bros
Warner Bros

Airplane! and the Naked Gun series were outliers in the parody genre that got both great reviews from critics and audience acclaim. Now we come to the first of Nielsen’s comedies that didn’t fare so well amongst the critics. Sure, this 1998 spoof from Naked Gun cowriter Pat Proft only got 22% on Rotten Tomatoes, but you can’t help but enjoy some great riffs on the “falsely accused man on the run” genre. Mostly parodying The Fugitive (though there’s a Titanic parody thrown in because, you know, late ’90s), Wrongfully Accused has a great train chase scene and silly, absurd sight gags akin to the Naked Gun series. Plus, Nielsen nails it as always.


6. Dracula: Dead and Loving It

Warner Bros
Warner Bros

Sure, this isn’t Mel Brooks’ greatest film, but it’s still Mel Brooks. Here, Nielsen plays Dracula with Brooks as Van Helsing and the perfectly cast Peter MacNicol as Renfield. This parody veers a little bit more towards puns and Borscht Belt-style punch lines, but Nielsen makes for a pretty great Dracula. Honestly, if Gary Oldman and Leslie Nielsen were pitted against each other in a ’90s Dracula-off, one, that would be amazing and two, our vote would go for Nielsen.


7. Spy Hard

Disney
Disney

Released in 1996 after the Naked Gun films had sputtered out at the box office, Spy Hard is mostly an action movie parody with a bit of James Bond thrown in. (And a catchy theme song from Comedy Bang! Bang! bandleader and musical parody genius “Weird Al” Yankovic.) Partially because of the movie’s lack of focus and specificity, the jokes never quite work. Plus, the Hot Shots! movies did action parody better and Austin Powers came along a year later to perfectly send up James Bond. Despite the film’s poor reviews, no one said a bad word about Nielsen. They just wanted better for him.


8. Repossessed

New Line Cinema
New Line Cinema

A lame spoof of The Exorcist, Repossessed has a rare honor of a 0% Rotten Tomatoes rating. (That’s right, Adam Sandler’s Jack and Jill fared better than this thrown-together parody.) Linda Blair gets possessed by the devil again and seeks out Nielsen’s Father Mayii to exorcise her. There’s not much to say about this other than it was made 17 years after The Exorcist came out and no one was clamoring for more gags about Linda Blair’s pea soup vomit. While an abysmal movie by every definition, there are a few chuckles here and there for Nielsen completists.


9. Mr. Magoo

Mr Magoo
Walt Disney Productions

With a whopping 4% score on Rotten Tomatoes, the 1997 big screen adaptation of the cartoon character of the same name was offensive to both the blind and Nielsen fans alike. Basically 87 minutes of tasteless jokes at the expense of sightless people and the elderly, Mr. Magoo is a low point even by the standards of the ’90s trend of big screen versions of forgettable TV shows. (It makes McHale’s Navy look like a comedic masterpiece.)


10. An American Carol

Vivendi
Vivendi

Though Mr. Magoo and Repossessed technically have lower Rotten Tomatoes ratings than An American Carol (which comes in at 11%), this political-themed “parody” from Airplane! and Naked Gun director David Zucker is offensive garbage, which kicks it to the bottom of the list. The story, so to speak, is about Michael Malone (a Michael Moore proxy), a filmmaker who hates America and wants to cancel the 4th of July. Eventually he’s visited by ghosts and is asked to make movies for terrorists. While a parody of Michael Moore could be great, this film sadly paints every liberal like a moronic, terrorist-loving hippy and indulges in other base stereotypes. Luckily for Nielsen, his part is small. Unluckily for us, he plays a dual role of Grandpa and Osama Bin Nielsen. Yes, Osama Bin Nielsen. Sadly, An American Carol was one of a number of subpar parodies Nielsen popped up in towards the end of his career.

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