At Banned and Dangerous, the Count, ET and I have ranked the best and worst of the Star Wars saga, and the Count has listed the best and worst of the James Bond series, so in honor of ABC Family's Harry Potter weekend event (and to get the dork out of my system), I am listing all the Harry Potter movies from best to worst.
1. Prisoner of Azkaban - After the candy-assed approach Chris Columbus took with Sorcerer's Stone & long-winded Chamber of Secrets, Mexican director Alfonso Cuaron leaves his mark on the series that future directors Mike Newell and David Yates would start from, and it's one of the definitive sequels made in the last decade (right behind The Two Towers and The Dark Knight). Under Cuaron, it feels like we're watching a real movie and not some Hollywood product. The visual effects -- from the way Harry takes off on a hippogriff (cross between horse and eagle), to the frightening nature of the Dementors, soulless creatures that patrol the wizard prison Azkaban -- look and feel as if they're apart of the HP universe; they're not simply there to just to look at them and say, 'wow!' Daniel Radcliffe comes into his own and shows emotional depth and grace into Harry's growth as a teenager, Gary Oldman is both hardened and haunting as Sirius Black, the escapee from the wizard prison and convicted mass murder, and David Thewlis is excellent as Professor Lupin, Harry's personal tutor in fighting the dreaded Dementors, who carries a terrible secret of his own. **** stars out of ****
2. Half-Blood Prince - Don't be fooled by the 6th installment's PG-rating, or the ever-brilliant comedic timing of Rupert Grint as Ron Weasley as he becomes the plaything to a clingy Lavender Brown. Half-Blood Prince brings a new element; something the last 5 Potter movies weren't -- emotionally bleak. In PoA, GoF and in OttP, there was a seamless transition from light to dark. Here, you can't shake this atmosphere of impending doom that will change everyone at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Credit Yates for bringing a more confident feel for J.K. Rowling's vision and story this time around, and cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel for his poet's eye for capturing the breaching darkness around the Wizarding World. Harry and Professor Dumbledore (the great Michael Gambon, who resembles Gandalf right down to the beard in this one) are unlocking the history of Lord Voldemort in order to find a weakness that could vanquish the Dark Lord, meanwhile You-Know-Who himself has recruited Draco Malfoy in a sinister plot that could break his soul. All of the British-led cast step their game up, notably Helena Bonham Carter playing Voldemort's right-hand woman Bellatrix Lestrange with equal parts simmering sexiness and menace, the always reliable Alan Rickman as Severus Snape and Tom Felton, giving the rat-bastard bigot a touching vulnerability he never though he had. **** stars out of ****
3. Goblet of Fire - I like to refer to Goblet of Fire as the movie where Harry gets in-touch with his inner Indiana Jones: He dodges the attacks of the Death Eaters, fights a dragon that goes south on his British ass, he rescues his friends from a watery grave, tries to find his way out of a shape-shifting maze without losing his sanity, and duels with the rebirth of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named (a scary Ralph Finnes). Most people will refer to this exciting chapter of the Potter movies as the first appearance of Edward Cullen, before he makes the move to Forks, Washington, falls in love with a girl who's just as pale and shallow as he, and rakes in big bucks from teenage girls and MILF's. Rant aside, GoF is the first Potter picture to receive the PG-13 rating and the first to be directed by a former Brit (Mike Newell), but it's the the onset of another villain -- adolescence -- and how Harry, Ron, and Hermione (Emma Watson) deal with it, that makes for great viewing. *** 1/2 stars out of ****
4. Order of the Phoenix - No. 5 gets tons of shit from critics and fans for being less whimsical and magical and for hiring a filmmaker who's previous stints include BBC made to TV films Sex Traffic and State of Play. Fair points. David Yates doesn't completely transfer the political and social mediation of the state of constant panic and fear-mongering after 9/11 Rowling was writing about, imo, but he brilliantly captures Harry's fears, his nightmares of Voldemort and how adolescence continues to fuck with his heart and emotions, and shoots the battle sequence in the Department of Mysteries with flare and excitement. And Imelda Stanton was all parts mirth and menace as Dolores Umbridge, the mole planed in by the Ministry to spy and report to the Wizarding government. *** stars out of ****
5. Sorcerer's Stone - The movie that started it all. Critics say that the first entry joins such classics like A New Hope and The Wizard of Oz of fantasy adventure movies. I'll give 'em that. But essentially the movie drags like it's a Comet 260 instead of soaring like Harry's Qudditch broomstick, the Nimbus 2000. The visual effects look tacky and don't quite blend into the surroundings, and Chris Columbus is too faithful to the material. What saves the day is the charm the three young leads (Radcliffe, Grint, and Watson) have, the magic the film's smaller moments have (Harry looking into the Mirror of Erisad, the Quidditch match between bitter rivals Gryffindor and Slytherin) and John William's now-timeless "Hedwig's Theme", along with the rest of the score. *** stars out of ****
6. Chamber of Secrets - Fans complained about Hermione's House Elf Liberation Front not making the final cut in GoF. I, for one, am happy it didn't because we would have to suffer through the Jar-Jar Binks of the HP universe in Dobby. A jarring, trouble-making house elf was the least of the sequel's problems: It carries on too long (nearly three hours), and Chris Columbus, once again, relied heavily on Rowling's material instead of making it his own, despite a promising 1st half of the movie (darker secrets about the founders of Hogwarts, a more rousing and thrilling game of Quidditch, Kenneth Branagh playing a funny, ego-driven narcissist in Gilderoy Lockhart, one of the best characters in the film series imo, and Radcliffe showing more depth as the title character). Its the Attack of the Clones of the HP movies, but with one distinct difference: for all of shortcomings of Chamber of Secrets, it was still enjoyable and charming to look at, whereas Episode II was just a melodramatic piece of crap. Did I forget to mention that Radcliffe's Harry didn't come off as a whiny bitch, unlike Hayden Christensen's Anakin Skywalker? ** 1/2 stars out of ****