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Every Pixar Movie, Ranked from Worst to Best

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Every Pixar Movie, Ranked from Worst to Best

Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Every Pixar Movie, Ranked from Worst to Best

Heavy on training montages and intergenerational torch passing, Cars 3 is an old-fashioned sports film at heart. Swap out the talking cars for boxers or baseball pitchers and Pixar’s latest would sit comfortably next to such films as Rocky Balboa and Trouble with the Curve, twilit dramas about a fading athlete struggling with age-old conundrums: how to know when to retire and how to do it with dignity. It’s the sort of counterintuitively mature theme that’s marked Pixar’s best output, but while Cars 3 may be the least objectionable entry in this series to date, it never hits the bittersweet emotional highs of films like Up and Toy Story 3. On the occasion of the film’s release, join us in revisiting the Pixar canon, ranked from worst to best.

Finding Nemo: Pixar’s Quiet Masterpiece

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Finding Nemo: Pixar’s Quiet Masterpiece
Finding Nemo: Pixar’s Quiet Masterpiece

Of all the feature films in Pixar’s impressive repertoire, Finding Nemo has arguably proven the most durable. The movie, which celebrated its 10th anniversary last month, is held in high favor critically and with audiences, but to some extent it’s also underappreciated, commonly regarded as an admirable, stalwart entry from the animation house. And yet, though it’s not a film that’s inspired the kind of rapturous following that The Incredibles or WALL-E have cultivated, Finding Nemo remains the heart and soul of the Pixar family of movies. It showcases a number of hallmarks for which the studio has become renowned, such as stunning technical bravura and smoothly elegant storytelling. But what distinguishes Finding Nemo from its studio brethren—and what makes it Pixar’s enduring classic to date—is its narrative accessibility and emotional directness.

At the time of its release, Finding Nemo was primarily heralded for its unparalleled pictorial beauty. Digital animation was still somewhat fresh at the time; just two years before, Shrek had introduced brand new possibilities in digital animation with its crisply rendered environments and characters that had scale and weight. Finding Nemo, by turn, was possibly the first full realization of those possibilities. I still remember seeing it in the theater and feeling completely engulfed by the colors, layers, and textures of the underwater world it fashions. Ten years later, the film still exudes an ethereal quality that’s seldom seen in today’s animation (which is a credit, also, to the deep musical and overall soundscape). But the abounding detail of the film’s visual design, from the scales on Nemo’s body to the speckles dancing in the foreground and background of every frame, is all the more astounding for how subtly it’s deployed.

Poster Lab: Before Midnight

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Poster Lab: <em>Before Midnight</em>
Poster Lab: <em>Before Midnight</em>

The supposed capper to a richly rewarding trilogy, Richard Linklater’s Before Midnight already has plenty of critics buzzing, standing out as an early favorite for year-end top 10 lists. So it’s more than a little unsavory that of all the beguiled reviewers to turn to for poster quotes (and there are plenty), Sony Pictures Classics tapped the inescapable Peter Travers, a guy perpetually in line with the just-north-of-populist taste of awards bodies. On the film’s just-released poster, Travers’s praise reads as follows: “Before Midnight is one of the year’s best movies. Full to the brim with humor, heartbreak, and ravishing romance. Richard Linklater directs with ardor and artistry. Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy shine brilliantly. Heads up, Oscar. This one’s a keeper.” Now, anyone who knows anything about film publicity will quickly gather that the strategy here can be traced straight to that keyword: “Oscar.” Travers has long been known as an utterly shameless blurb whore, filling his reviews with Academy-courting nuggets, and that FYC turn of phrase surely landed him prime real estate here. But, really, Sony Pictures Classics should know better than to resort to such—in laughably alliterative, Travers-esque terms—baldfaced buffoonery. This is an exceedingly classy film with a handsome poster to boot. And since Linklater and stars Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke netted an Original Screenplay nod for 2004’s Before Sunset, surely their next installment is already on the Academy’s radar. Couldn’t a more articulate endorsement have been chosen to grace the ad for this ultra-articulate movie?

What Lurks Beneath Jesse Ball’s The Curfew

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What Lurks Beneath: Jesse Ball’s The Curfew
What Lurks Beneath: Jesse Ball’s The Curfew

The origins of the shadowy totalitarian forces lurking around many corners of Jesse Ball’s The Curfew are left purposefully vague. The novel is probably set in Chicago, but it doesn’t matter. William Drysdale, the book’s protagonist, has a daughter, Molly, who doesn’t speak. His wife disappeared some years ago, after some revolution began. No one inquires as to why Molly doesn’t speak. It doesn’t matter. William doesn’t know why his wife was (presumably) murdered. It should matter, of course, but even if it does, William can’t let it. The Curfew’s unidentified, rarely present narrator introduces the futility of truth or emotion in these circumstances this way: “I shall introduce this city and its occupants as a series of objects whose relationship cannot be told with any certainty.”

That is: When there is no art, and no debate is tolerated, and when any passerby may be secret police (and you, therefore, to any passerby, may be secret police), notions of truth or trust are slippery. For William, what solace seems to exist comes from accepting the circumstances of life in a police state: He minds his own business and plays word games with his daughter.

Video Review: Katy Perry’s "E.T."

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Video Review: Katy Perry’s “E.T.”
Video Review: Katy Perry’s “E.T.”

The third in a trifecta of videos from pop music’s current ruling harem involving some juxtaposition of sci-fi action and mythological creatures (the others being Kesha’s superior “Blow” and Lady Gaga’s superior-er “Born This Way”), Katy Perry’s “E.T.” finds the singer taking on the role of an extra-terrestrial goddess who changes outfits more often than Cher during her Vegas stage show.

Oscar 2011 Winner Predictions: Animated Feature Film

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Oscar 2011 Winner Predictions: Animated Feature Film
Oscar 2011 Winner Predictions: Animated Feature Film

How to explain How to Train Your Dragon winning 10 Annie awards? Maybe Pixar was right that the group’s voting procedures are stacked in favor of DreamWorks Animation movies, or maybe they’re not and the voting body decided to punish Pixar for not making an effusive awards push for Toy Story 3. Since the highest-grossing film of 2010 doesn’t exactly need to remind anyone of its existence, or excellence for that matter, and since Kung Fu Panda inexplicably laid waste to Wall-E at the Annies two years ago, we think Pixar might have Annie’s number. Whatever you think, though, it seems unlikely that How to Train Your Dragon will best Toy Story 3 at the Oscars given the larger AMPAS voting body that will dutifully null any DreamWorks-versus-Pixar drama that may carry over into the Oscar race. There’s also Toy Story 3’s five nominations to How to Train Your Dragon’s two. In short: We don’t see Oscar pulling a Grammy here. With a nomination for Best Picture, Toy Story 3 losing this award would be as much of an upset as, well, Arcade Fire winning Album of the Year.

Will Win: Toy Story 3

Could Win: How to Train Your Dragon

Should Win: Toy Story 3

Music Video: Broken Bells’s "The Ghost Inside"

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Music Video: Broken Bells’s “The Ghost Inside”
Music Video: Broken Bells’s “The Ghost Inside”

I’ve spent much time elsewhere prattling on about my distaste for robots and my fear of the Robot Apocalypse, but when I heard that the new music video for Broken Bells’s “The Ghost Inside” (directed by Jacob Gentry) was to star Mad Men’s Christina Hendricks (I love her) as a robot, naturally I had high hopes that, for once, I could lay off the robo-haterade because the Robot Apocalypse would be led by Hedricks, which means the Robot Apocalypse demands glamour. Fabulous, glorious, poolside-cocktails-and-retro-sunglasses glamour:

Then again, this is the Robot Apocalypse, after all: a lonely, post-apocalyptic landscape—or in this case, space-scape—where things grow increasingly bleak, which is exactly what happens in this music video. “Even for robots?” you ask.

Focus on the Family: Pixar’s Small-c Conservatism

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Focus on the Family: Pixar’s Small-c Conservatism
Focus on the Family: Pixar’s Small-c Conservatism

Earlier this year, the National Review published a list of the top 25 conservative movies. Number two on this list was Pixar’s The Incredibles:

This animated film skips pop-culture references and gross jokes in favor of a story that celebrates marriage, courage, responsibility, and high achievement. A family of superheroes—Mr. Incredible, his wife Elastigirl, and their children—are living an anonymous life in the suburbs, thanks to a society that doesn’t appreciate their unique talents. Then it comes to need them. In one scene, son Dash, a super-speedy runner, wants to try out for track. Mom claims it wouldn’t be fair. “Dad says our powers make us special!” Dash objects. “Everyone is special,” Mom demurs, to which Dash mutters, “Which means nobody is.”

Besotted with Stars: The Problem with Wall-E

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Besotted with Stars: The Problem with <em>Wall-E</em>
Besotted with Stars: The Problem with <em>Wall-E</em>

For all that Pixar loves to celebrate its underdogs, WALL·E marks the first (and so far, only) time the studio has named an entire movie after its protagonist, neither effacing him into part of a wider community (Toy Story, A Bug’s Life, Monsters Inc., The Incredibles, Cars) or a central mission (Finding Nemo, Ratatouille, Up). That WALL·E’s name is shared by his peers and short for his mission—“Waste Allocation Load Lifter · Earth-class”—barely counts against this claim, since the acronym is pronounced like a regular human name. The movie is built on the premise that he is the last of his kind, and the essential pleasures of WALL·E do not spring from his assigned mission but in the tangents he chases beyond it. Though the break in titling scheme alone implies it, we can tell from the raves accompanying the movie’s prologue—in which WALL·E is only character we encounter, save for a curly-feelered roach—that Pixar invests much of WALL·E’s success on the cult of personality that forms around its title character.

Pushing at Boundaries: The Two-Faced Ideology of Pixar

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Pushing at Boundaries: The Two-Faced Ideology of Pixar
Pushing at Boundaries: The Two-Faced Ideology of Pixar

“YOU. ARE. A. TOY! You aren’t the real Buzz Lightyear! You’re… You’re an action figure! You are a child’s plaything!”

“You piece of dirt! No, I’m wrong. You’re lower then dirt. You’re an ant!”

In Pixar’s first two feature length films, Toy Story (1995) and A Bug’s Life (1998), after a violent confrontation, two of the main characters are face to face. One of them berates the other in defense of an age-old system of master and servant, a system that the other character actively denounces because this system gets in the way of his lofty ambitions. In both films, the plot centers on this conflict of those who wish to uphold boundaries and those who wish to break through them.

However, there’s one main difference. In the film’s ideologies, Buzz Lightyear is wrong, and Flik is right.