8: Jack the Giant Slayer
Although most of the story follows a predictable trajectory, there are some things to like. It’s enthusiastically acted and at times fun, but Jack the Giant Slayer also feels like it was made by a committee. It’s fast paced, energetic but also overwhelmed by digital effects. And it could be a great recommendation for children under the age of ten, only the CGI-heavy battle scenes, landed it with a PG-13 rating. Ultimately it’s an entertaining diversion but not something you’ll revisit ever again.
- Ricky D
7: Public Access
Playing with the A Face in the Crowd formula (including a sly “naming names” reference), Public Access is the film that started the Bryan Singer-Christopher McQuarrie collaboration. The Sundance splash follows Whiley Pritcher (Ron Marquette) as a preppy drifter who shows up in the idyllic town of Brewster to start a new cable TV show that asks the question “what’s wrong with Brewster?” Though it shows much promise with some early cinematic flair and a penchant for non-linear, subjective structure that Singer and McQuarrie would use again in their real breakthrough, 1995’s The Usual Suspects, Public Access is a slight film that doesn’t quite add up to the Kazan and Schulberg heights it aims to reach.
Valkyrie has some issues but once you get Tom Cruise playing a Nazi soldier (without a German accent, mind you), who helps create a plan to kill Hitler, this true story disguised as a nail biting action flick is extremely well made and ultimately very rewarding.
Cruise plays Colonial Calus Von Stauffenberg, a wounded soldier who is brought into a plan to assassinate Hitler. The movie is based on a true story and as several attempts fail Singer notches up the tension. Standout scenes include a massive opening sequence and an assassination attempt using a briefcase and pencil detonators. The film is aided by some exceptional performances by Cruise, Sir Kenneth Branagh, Tom Wilkinson and the always welcome Bill Nighy.
Singer directs the movie with a sense of urgency and fear making it an intense experience. Valkyrie brings Singer and his The Usual Suspects script writer Christopher McQuirre back together and although this movie isn’t crackling with the same thrill and excitement as their debut film there is something very enjoyable about this film.
- Tressa Eckermann
5: Superman Returns
Superman Returns works best if you don’t have a history with the Superman franchise. It was set up to be the first in a rebooted franchise that never happened. The 2006 film finds Bryan Singer taking a glum look at the lonely life of the beloved superhero. The film is beautifully made and benefits from having people like Frank Langella and Kevin Spacey there. Spacey chews up scenery with a maniacal relish that gives the movie a jolt of energy while Brandon Routh takes on the iconic role of Superman.
There are lulls of course and that’s where Superman Returns falters the most but ultimately Singer holds the movie together with the overall tone. Superman Returns feels like a throwback, for all of the action sequences there’s some almost old fashioned about the way Singer tells the story. And that’s where it shines.
- Tressa Eckerman
4: Apt. Pupil
Adaptations of Stephen King’s works are usually best known as those that fall inside of the horror genre.
Apt Pupil uses the horrors of the Holocaust as a backdrop to the more conventional horror devices of a King story. Pupil opened with a bad reputation, plagued with constant production problems and a lawsuit in which the parents of actors Brad Renfro and Joshua Jackson tried to sue director Bryan Singer and the producers for the sexual abuse of the minors. And of course there was the depiction of the Holocaust – which some call distasteful, and say, appropriates one of the century’s greatest tragedies for dubious means. If that isn’t enough, the movie punctuates every relationship in the film with an underlying fear of homosexuality. It should be noted that the film is directed by an openly gay, Jewish American filmmaker. Clearly the narrative, themes, and intent left many confused. Aesthetically, the movie is well made by Bryan Singer (his first feature), and yes it is well acted, especially by Ian McKellen as Kurt Dussander, but ultimately Apt Pupil is over-rated, and suffers from too many problems to label it good. As an examination of the essence of evil, the film stays too close to the surface to deliver a truly interesting commentary, and settles with a barely human portrayal of inhumanity.
- Ricky D
Though it wasn’t the first super hero film, in a lot of ways, Singer’s 2000 film X-Men created the template the genre has been following for over a decade since the film’s release. Gone is the camp of previous super hero fare, and in its place is a darkness that situates our heroes in a world that can be uncomfortably like our own. Nailing the themes of discrimination, inclusion, and identity politics, X-Men avoids a lot of unnecessary exposition and throws us immediately into the conflict between Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and Eric Lehnsherr (Ian McKellan), via audience surrogates Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) and Rogue (Anna Paquin). Though in many ways the film serves as a set up for what’s to come (in the superior X2: X-Men United and the dreadful X-Men: The Last Stand, as well as in various spin-offs, prequels, and the forthcoming sequel X-Men: Days of Future Past, which will see Singer return as director), it still manages to develop a feeling and a mood that changed the way the culture approached superhero movies forever. X-Men is not wholly satisfying narratively, but it is immensely rewarding for the weight with which it treats its central characters. The heroes here, and even their adversaries, are mutants with power sets that could often be laughable (Ray Park’s Toad is a perfect example), yet the film takes them seriously, and in doing so, forces the audience to contend with comic book adaptations in a whole new way. Occasionally, X-Men plants its tongue in its cheek, but what’s shocking is how often it approaches its material candidly, replacing camp with a gritty pulp style that paved the way for an explosion of comic book adaptations and permanently altered the way we expect to see superheroes depicted on the big screen.
- Jordan Ferguson
2: X-Men 2 (2003)
After his success in revitalising the Marvel franchise X-Men in 2000, Bryan Singer had a mammoth task of creating a worthy sequel three years afterwards that had to meet the legendary expectations of the fans. For a director who by his own admission was initially unfamiliar with the characters and the comic book, Singer managed to make the film his own – by bringing onboard additional characters, played around with cannon and ambitiously setting the stage for the film version of one of the most important and importable story lines in comic history.
Handling a variety of plotlines and an extended cast, X-Men 2 was a creative challenge from the outset for Singer, whose efforts with the film’s predecessor marked a new era in the modern superhero movie. From the siege on Xavier’s mansion to the brilliant choreographed fight between Wolverine and Lady Deathstrike, X-Men 2 proves to critics that he had the ability to deliver the goods amidst intense fanboy speculation.
As it sets up the third instalment perfectly in its last few moments, X-Men 2 stands out as a defining superhero movie. It is such a shame that the trilogy was left with such a lacklustre conclusion, tainting the triumph of Singer’s efforts.
- Katie Wong
1: The Usual Suspects (1995)
In 1993, at the Sundance Film festival, a young Bryan Singer was showing his directorial debut Public Access. It was also here where he met the actor that would help him to make a mark in Hollywood: Kevin Spacey.
With a plot that focusing solely of one man’s recounting of a heist gone wrong, The Usual Suspects delivers a modern-day film noir. Key witness Verbal Kint (Spacey)’s account of how five known felons hired by a mythical criminal mastermind, enfolds into a complex and riveting mystery that delivers a devastating conclusion.
As the seemingly naive Kint, Spacey gives a career-defining performance with his ability to convince everyone with his story but with Singer guiding the film with a trademark smooth directorial style. Interweaving a series of flashbacks and interrogations, collectively growing in mystery and intrigue, makes it all the more easier for the audience to become as enthralled as the FBI agent to whom Kint is telling his tale. Just who is Keyser Soze?
The Usual Suspects may straddle the line between crime story and mystery but it is undoubtably a modern classic.
- Katie Wong