Mission: Impossible

In contrast to the James Bond movies—clean, steady work for largely interchangeable journeymen—the mutable MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE series has eschewed any semblance of "house style" in favor of putting strong, distinctive personalities at the helm (in order: Brian De Palma, John Woo, J.J. Abrams and, for the upcoming fourth film, Pixar icon Brad Bird, making his live-action directing debut); it's America's premier crypto-auteurist action franchise. Considering its status as the first blockbuster of the contemporary variety—based on an established property, budgeted at the modern equivalent of $110 million, and released to over 3,000 theaters on opening day (the first film to do so)—De Palma's MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE is a surprisingly old-fashioned movie: talky, leisurely-paced, with extensive use of complex sequence-shots, zooms, anachronistic slow dissolves, and playful 'scope framing. The major set piece—Tom Cruise's high-wire infiltration of CIA headquarters—is a modern classic of meticulously-ratcheted suspense, but the film's got more going for it than well-made thrills: De Palma clearly had the time of his life stuffing the movie with screens-within-screens, tearaway masks, subjective flashbacks, and POV shots while also adding in a touch of his Europhilia and political pessimism. If Woo's MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE II felt like another go at FACE / OFF, then this is De Palma's first draft of FEMME FATALE: giddy, shifty entertainment that's much smarter than it seems.