The Sound of Music (Robert Wise, 1965)

How do you solve a problem like Maria?

The hills are alive with the sound of tradition. The Sound of Music (a rather enigmatic title by any standard) is not so much a lively musical as it is a piece of western culture. It comes by annually, near the turn of the year, to liven up the heart and vocal range of many a fan. It strikes, if you’ll pardon the pun, a chord.

Shrek The Third (Chris Miller, Raman Hui, 2007)

Keeping up appearances with a filthy ogre

The motor that powers the Shrek movies is subversion. The first film was a surprise as it put everything about fairytales on its head: the brutish ogre was the hero, his sidekick an annoying donkey and in the end even the princess turned out to be a monster. The follow-up proved equally entertaining, providing a magical kingdom built on the ideals of Hollywood and run by an industrious, corrupt fairy. At this point Shrek himself has become the norm. He is a hero just like any other. Can Shrek The Third really provide the same subversive qualities as the others, or is it just a thin veneer underneath which runs a standard fantasy comedy?

The Hurt Locker (Kathryn Bigalow, 2008)

Sergeant James can’t stop disarming bombs

No one is sane in this portrait of soldiers in the second Gulf War. No one unscarred. But each of the three bomb squad members carries the horror in their own way. Their job is to locate and dismantle explosives in the streets of Iraq. Every day in their lives brings new painful trauma, near-death experiences and seeing innocent people blow up.

Battleship (Peter Berg, 2012)

Please get a physics teacher involved next time

Battleship has a Flying Snowman right at the beginning. The Flying Snowman is a concept pioneered by author John Scalzi that symbolizes the breaking point of a fictional universe. When his wife once read a bedtime tale to their young daughter about a snowman coming to life, the fact that it could fly took her out of the story. Scalzi was surprised: surely it was equally curious when the snowman ate hot soup earlier?

The Hunchback of Notre Dame (Gary Trousdale, Kirk Wise, 1996)

Disney’s most troubling animated film to date (spoiler notice)

I paid The Hunchback of Notre Dame little heed when it came out in 1996. At the time I was getting a little too old for Disney sing-alongs, or rather I was reaching that childish period, C.S. Lewis so nicely put, where you’re concerned with things being childish. Eventually, you grow out of that and you’re free to enjoy everything.

Jesus Christ Superstar (Norman Jewison, 1973)

The end is just a little harder, when brought about by friends

I hesitate to write this review. Jesus Christ Superstar has for a long time been my favorite movie. How do I explain this? Where to start? Let me begin by saying this: if you think it’s strange for a pronounced atheist like myself to have this film at number one, read on.

20th Century Boys (Yukihiko Tsutsumi, 2008-2009)

The end of the world as thought up by children

It can be equal parts exciting and confusing when films escape genre definitions. Take the Japanese 20th Century Boys trilogy, based on the successful manga series. What is it? A cult thriller? Dystopian science fiction? Drama about trauma’s incurred in youth? It’s all of these things at the same time, mixed into an experience that is as disjointed as it is triumphant. It’s a trick the Japanese have mastered almost exclusively.

Quiz (Dick Maas, 2012)

Let’s meet our contestants

Director Dick Maas deals in schlock. Over the decades he has painted a consistently satirical version of the Netherlands to serve as backdrop for his films. Whether it’s horror (Amsterdamned, Sint, De Lift) or farcical comedy (the Flodder series, Moordwijven), his oeuvre oozes deliberate pulp. Maas steps outside his comfort zone in Quiz, a film that he himself confesses is unusual in that it’s basically just two men talking to each other in a restaurant. For once, no gross zombies, no gratuitous nudity included.

Skyfall (Sam Mendes, 2012)

Bond comes full circle (spoiler notice)

“We can’t keep working in the shadows,” says MI6 chairman Gareth Mallory to M, “there are no more shadows.” But he’s proved wrong by her, by circumstance, by reality. Now more than ever the world needs secret agents like Bond. A man unafraid to pull the trigger on enemies without allegiance, without a flag. Skyfall is an affidavit to that effect, and so much more.