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currently feeling: le passion de jeanne d'arc
20, colorado, statistics major, resident godard fan, resident rivette fan. scorsese is alright. bresson>tarkovsky>dreyer>bergman. rivette>godard>rohmer>truffaut>chabrol.
the people are raving
"pretty much best ma has to offer." - atnahom
"Catfisherf_ckoff" - Nic_Thirlby_Marling
"He's underrated" - AmyPascal
"You're one of the best here based on my limited time on this board." - Jay96
"He's improved a lot, I borderline like the dude these days. Whatever he says usually has meaning, too." - liottayes
"Starting to win me over and he always knows how to discuss his opinions." - Feesy
"I don't understand a lot of his opinion on things (acting, for example), but I like him. He seems self-aware enough that his whole raison d'ouchebag is hilarious." - ChairfaceC
"I feel like he's getting nicer and more palatable by the day and that's never a bad thing." - zombieDANCE
"Can be a bit harsh, but I'm warming up to him." - TastyBeverage11
"Dedicated poster with a lot of knowledge." - Pessimus_Reincarnated
"Another dude who I don't always agree with but he's never been mean or harsh and is a class act and I respect that" - TommyDowneyJr
"I really like him, he's a bit too critical of others tastes, especially younger buzzers which annoys me especially. But he's actually really nice and you can learn a lot from him " - MatTtT
"i like??" - bkguy182
"I'm glad you're here to keep the plebian taste in check. Plus you're just a funny and insightful dude in general." WombiWombiWombiWombi
"Has a tremendous amount of diversity in their film viewership and is open to all kinds of filmmakers, but does not hold his tongue on directors he straight up dislikes. Great understanding of film form and always willing to give in-depth details on his opinions, coming close to winning me over even when I disagree." - mikediastavrone96
"He's got a neat taste in movies." - Drishtii
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I've been attempting to see a broad range of films throughout my film buff life and this is an assorted list of favourites. I love all of these films, and they've all struck some sort of chord with me. Being as how I like these films the most, they are also the ones I consider the best, at least of what I've seen. But why no Godfather Part II? Why no Rules of the Game or Vertigo? Because they have not stuck chords with me as the films on this list have. I've taken most of my recommendations from a very small group of people, in addition to the They Shoot Pictures' list as well as Sight and Sound, and various recommendations I've read in books or critical reviews (typically those of Godard, Rosenbaum, Slant Magazine or Cahiers du cinema). Enjoy your journey.
Lars von Trier Stanley Kubrick
Federico Fellini John Ford Robert Bresson Akira Kurosawa
Chantal Akerman Bela Tarr Carl Dreyer Andrei Tarkovsky David Lynch Orson Welles
Richard Linklater Sion Sono Tobe Hooper Pete Watkins Kenneth Lonergan Fritz Lang Alain Resnais Darren Aronofsky Paul Verhoeven Abbas Kiarostami Sergio Leone Terrence Malick James Cameron Nicholas Ray Jean Cocteau Harmony Korine Stan Brakhage Peter Greenaway
Based on the very limited amount I've seen
Godard: 8 Brakhage: 4 Rivette: 3 Akerman, Snow, von Trier, Lynch, Korine: 2
not on imdb: the 7 hour trailer of Ambiance, which would likely be around the bottom here.
ratings based on first impression, not necessarily current impression
monthly highlight doesn't mean best of the month, it's just a monthly highlight!
not on imdb:
Nine to Nine (Bahadur, 2017) - 7
Films listed in order of preference.
Notes: Must have seen at least 3 films from, must have at least 1 film on my top 200 to qualify.
i will probably put up some short reviews on these as i watch them. if you feel as though you can contribute, you you can message me on facebook at https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100012759377591 so i may include yours as well
Is there any word better to describe Medina's debut feature other than "rhapsody?" Experimental, daring, perhaps. But this is just a poetic flow of images, concepts, sounds, with a surprisingly distinguished aesthetic. Whispers, ADHD image transitions, Godardian breaking up of music and the act of questioning whether or not sounds are diegetic give the film a jittery feel. There are true connections between certain scenes, between others, a simple stream-of-consciousness is all we have to go off of.
But make no mistake, Medina has a thesis. We hear 90s rap (a Big L lyric, "we wasn't poor, we was po'/we couldn't afford the ol' 'r'") and see a sign with the word "PO" on it. Medina realizes the stasis of poverty, as various scientific concepts regarding the notion of stasis are heard in a single channel through the film's complex audio. Poverty is something he sees as perpetual, as hopeless. It's not necessarily homelessness, but it seems to represent the simple longing for a better opportunity in the world. "And I love giving thanks/But it's all about survival," as heard in a character's rap lyrics.
Medina argues that the world has, in some ways, despite the ever- modernizing of our everyday lives, gone back to its roots. Poverty has made survival more pivotal than enjoyment, which I suppose it always has been. Medina realizes this too. Perhaps he is attempting to investigate the impact of this?
There is a very modern aesthetic at work here. Flashes of Goodbye to Language can be detected oftentimes, although unlike the old and playful Godard, Medina comes across more as a young poet, disillusioned with the world already. Snapchat, smartphone games, and hip hop all make prominent appearances throughout. But there's also a new frustration. From alienation, perhaps caused by technology. For a young guy like me (19) it's all too relate-able; the feeling that there's no one out there who's truly perfect and the longing for something that you're not quite sure how to put it in words. A mesmerizing, beautiful film, and one that gives me hope for cinema in the future.
An indie turn from an indie director
Linklater is certainly one of the most talented working directors today, and likely the most creative too. His latest film, Boyhood, may not quite attain the levels of Before Sunrise (or whichever "Before" film is most preferred by the given viewer), but it is an incredible work of art, soaring high above the now-quasi-traditionalist modern indie cinema.
Boyhood is not the first film of its kind. The Seven Up series follows kids in a documentary style and a new film is produced every seven years with an update on their lives. Francois Truffaut has accomplished a similar effect to Linklater in his Antonie Doidel series. There are surely examples of other films, with the majority of them likely experimental in nature, that have similar filming styles as Boyhood. But where Linklater's creativity lies is not in how Boyhood is constructed necessarily; the "gimmick" of the 12 year filming only aids to the film by giving it the necessary dramatic growth.
There have been multiple "indie" film movements over the history of cinema; neorealism and the French New Wave may even be classified as "indie" for their desire to break through political or artistic barriers respectively. The current indie movement, however, attempts to have a somewhat more shallow purpose, that is, to simply make un-Hollywood films. However, this limits the films themselves, as this promotes the same mundane formula that Hollywood does, despite having a different audience and end goal.
This is where Boyhood transcends the indie drama and, to a lesser extent, all indie films before it and possibly after it. Constant placement of raw, real, dramatic scenes in traditional indie flicks seem to mimic typical Oscar bait scenes pumped out during the latter part of the year, and while Boyhood does have drama, it is very toned down. To assume that Linklater's placement of subdued drama is an attempt to mask the real world is entirely nonsensical; in fact, Boyhood feels more real than nearly every other movie, without even attempting to truly "be" overly-realistic.
Linklater has attempted to create a film of feeling, a feeling that is ever-so-common today but ever-so-rarely filmed. In many films today, about pseudo-conventional, white, middle-class Americans, their tragedies in life are given almost astrological significance within the confines of the film (Silver Linings Playbook, as an example).There are some other films, particularly Margaret, which use other factors (shots of the city, with the characters as a microcosm for society) to give importance to the message. Boyhood is different; Boyhood captures the melancholy feelings that many people of the current generation are likely to identify with. Some bad things happen, some not so bad, but really nothing all that life-threatening. The lead character is a bit of a cynic, convinced he has the world figured out - or he is en route due to his nearly-objectivist attitude - yet is clueless about the future, placing an emphasis on the present.
Perhaps this is how Linklater felt while filming Boyhood; the style changes over the course of the film, from pop-culture touchstones to more focused inter-personal relationships. Just as the characters mature, so does Linklater, fine-tuning his detour away from the populist indie movement which he nearly helped define. Have we found our new, American Jean-Luc Godard? Is Boyhood to Dazed and Confused as Weekend is to Breathless? Only time will tell.
Edge of Tomorrow (2014)
Quite possibly the best Sci-fi film since Starship Troopers
Among the various (shallow) criticisms, witticisms, and remarks that can be found against modern mainstream American cinema, there seems to always be at least a bit of common ground: a lack of diversity among everything from plots to race to the general appeal of the films. That being said, myself being bitter with the way cinema has turned out today in spite of the countless technological innovations even within the past five years or so, I still have some hope for blemishes of brilliance, of which Edge of Tomorrow certainly wields.
There are many shallow, Twitter-esque ways to sum up Liman's film. Groundhog Day but with war. Something something something Starship Troopers. Some combination of the two. But these do not effectively do justice to what is, in fact, an exceptional movie, confident in its own quality while acknowledging its inferiority to previous films.
From the opening scene, there is an age-old Citizen Kane reference with the use of newsreels to accurately describe the events that will happen in the film. One could say that, from the get-go, Edge is a fully realized film capable of paying homage effectively without the need to overdo it; that is, nobody in the film complains about how the Mimics resemble the bugs from Starship Troopers, nor does anyone use one of those age-old Terminator quotes we all love to hate. No, Edge is something different; it is exceptional in its way to utilize the crisis from Groundhog Day, the incredible energy and tension from The Terminator, even the aforementioned newsreel footage derived from Citizen Kane. Edge has, in this way, done something special: it has, once again, transcended the summer blockbuster by the simple way that it knows what it is doing. It's not quite Repo Man self-conscious, though it is at the very least intelligent.
Another common complaint of this new cinema is a lack of thought- provoking in most modern films. Edge has a moderately difficult plot to understand, but nothing that can't be explained relatively easily after viewing. So does Edge suffer for this reason? I say that, since it already has established itself as having some form of intelligence, this is not important. Edge knows what it is doing, and it does it very well, largely due to the bravura performance of Cruise; watch out for the middle ten minutes or so, Cruise has never been better.
Exquisite and layered
Jonze's new romantic sci-fi is a film which could have quite easily failed on multiple levels. It's a movie with a lot of big name stars with an unlikely-yet-still-expected premise, and it could have simply amassed multiple clichéd elements of acceptance and been based off of that trait alone. Yet Her transcends this; Her is a less a film about acceptance (though this is a somewhat minor theme) and more a film about the tension between romantic and sexual desire, or, on a broader level, the tension between the space between others and romantic contact in relationships.
Her opens with a monologue given by Phoenix's character Theodore which at once feels both heartbreaking, romantic, beautiful, and clichéd. We later learn that he writes "beautiful, hand-written letters" for people in relationships everywhere. This is about as much of a plot point as the existence of Samantha, Theodore's new Operating System with extended AI. We also learn of Amy, Theodore's close platonic friend, and her husband Charles, as well as Theodore's wife Catherine.
Theodore: Main character Catherine: His wife Amy: His friend Charles: Her husband Samantha: Theodore's new love
Theodore is not a particularly complex person. He writes these letters to people posing as their lover, and gets a sort of enjoyment out of it due to his recent divorce. This is absolutely critical to the themes of the film. Theodore does not live with his wife, or with Samantha, or with the people he writes letters to, or even Amy, or the one night stands he has, but rather he keeps them all at a distance. One may think this is because of the heartbreak of his marriage, but it's likely more than that, but there's too much speculation involved there.
From the opening scenes, we see restrained colours everywhere. Tans, whites, and the occasionally-restrained red. But there is bright red everywhere, potentially signifying Theodore's love which is everywhere, but so penetrated by all of the gloom of his life. Or, it may be the other way around: despite all of his gloom, his love is still able to shine and prevail.
Interestingly enough, these colours begin to fade over time. The colour palette becomes more clichéd as he begins his relationship with his ever-caring OS. His love begins to fade more and more despite their passionate, yet not physical, relationship. When Samantha wishes to have a woman substitute her body so that Theodore can get the best of both worlds, he is caring sexually yet not able to have passion from this unknown woman. It is interesting to note, also, that this woman is consenting to this strange relationship and only a single character in the film places serious judgment upon Theodore, perhaps Jonze's way of saying that this is not a film about acceptance at all. Though his wife Catherine places blame on him for not being able to handle real human emotions, I don't think that has any actual bearing on the film as, though Theodore may be a little awkward, he's certainly able to understand people to an extent.
Theodore and Samantha grow closer before she gets distant from him and their limitations become more clear. She falls in love with over four hundred other computers while simultaneously loving Theodore. This is before their relationship ends as she simply states that all of the OSs are going away, and Theodore seeks the comfort of Amy, recently divorced from her husband Charles for "the silliest conversation ever".
The unlikely couple seem to bond in a metaphysical ending with a beautifully fitting soundtrack. Yet somehow, the ending is neither tragic nor uplifting. We somehow know that not all is well for Theodore, and we somehow doubt the relationship with Amy will work. The film slowly fades to black, just as it did when Theodore realizes his love for Samantha. While I doubt that Jonze is referencing a complete cycle of relationships for Theodore, I think he's implying that this relationship will have similar setbacks and restrained passion.
Beyond all of that analysis, here's the bottom line: Her is a beautiful, romantic film with countless themes and questions and should be seen for its contributions to the psychological sci-fi genre.
The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)
An above average approach to a below average genre.
The Wolf of Wall Street is, I believe, an auteur's take on breaking conformity with a very conforming film. Scorsese's latest flick stars frequent (mediocre) collaborator Leo DiCaprio as a Wall Street stockbroker who invents the rules of the market as he goes along, to unmatched success and unmatched downfall. Does this story sound like a typical kind of film? We've seen it with Raging Bull, City of God, and countless other gritty R-rated flicks throughout the past thirty years or so. As such, a format like the typical rise-and-fall plot allows for little use of creativity.
Scorsese, I believe, recognizes this. The Wolf of Wall Street is not particularly gritty as far as violence is concerned, and one never cares a large amount about any of the characters, as they do in a film like Raging Bull, or, in a more similarly themed, 2013 film starring DiCaprio, The Great Gatsby. I'm reasonably sure that this was an intentional choice on behalf of Mr. Scorsese, as he makes other artistic decisions to defy the shallow mold of a genre which he is confined to. Wolf's predictability is easy to tell; from the minute the audience sees Jordan Belfort bragging about his life, the inevitable end is only a long three hours away, and we anticipate it will conclude with Belfort much less wealthy, possibly having learned a life lesson.
But there is no life lesson in Wolf. Scorsese's self-indulgence rivals even the great Fellini's at times; the difference being that Fellini is so great a director that I don't particularly mind Fellini's over- indulgence of whatever film aspect he chooses to obsess over, whereas with Scorsese, I feel as though he is not a fully mature filmmaker (or rather, he has hit-or-miss maturity), with Wolf being a little low on the maturity scale. Yes, it's got humour, it details rags-to-riches-to- rags, but I don't feel as though there's quite enough creativity to hold up Wolf to the genre that it's inevitably placed in, as there is in City of God or Raging Bull. The reason why those two films are superior to Wolf? We care immensely about the characters in the first, and the acting and grittiness of the second.
The ability to sympathize with characters in a film is no mandatory requirement; but when one makes a character study three hours long with little to really go off of as far as identification goes, it certainly helps. Belfort is never in any real tension - but do we, the audience, actually care? My answer is not particularly.
Many critics fault Wolf's excess in profanity and partying as immature, and while I agree with them to an extent, I don't feel as though it's a nail in the coffin for the film at all. Those opposed to these critics cite that the film is a dark comedy or a heavy satire of this exact debauchery that the film depicts, but I don't fully buy that. Say what you will, but there is no excuse for the amount of raw excess in Wolf, except for indulgence on the director's part. Unlike many satires, however, Wolf is very funny; but I feel that much of its humour stems more from individual comedic situations rather than a satire of the high class as a whole.
American Hustle (2013)
Mediocre yet not quite bad
I don't usually try to buy into hype. It's led to some underwhelming results, both in life and in following the film industry. Life is full of disappointments.
Around a year ago, I posted my review for Silver Linings Playbook, joking about how with an all-star cast and a notable director, a film can still fail (even though I do like Silver Linings). Here we are, a year later, with a film more star-studded than Elton John's wardrobe that manages to be a disappointment on a number of levels, one of which being the acting.
Christian Bale is fantastic in his role as a leading con man, and while I never considered him particularly charismatic, he definitely retains that quality with Hustle. Bradley Cooper does what Bradley Cooper is supposed to do, and Jeremy Renner is fine, but the rest of the parts fall short on a number of levels. Amy Adams in particular is a letdown, with many of her lines seeming forced or clumsy. Jennifer Lawrence can't determine how to make facial expressions half of the time, and it's not due to "indecisiveness"; it's a matter of not portraying emotions properly.
But still, Hustle retains an interesting plot that is ultimately lacking in depth but it makes up for it somewhat with scattered humour and The Big Sleep-esque plot maneuvering. I'm not one to complain about not sympathizing with lead characters, but I didn't sympathize with the lead characters. Yes, we see how an unexpected couple fall in love, and how someone from that couple falls in love with another, who is in love with another, who may or may not be in love with another, etc. There is no depth, however, to these relationships. There's a reason why the love- triangle is one of the most popular plot devices; it appeals to a broad audience, it creates plot tension, but also it allows for thematic depth. There is none of this in Hustle.
Still, the biggest issue with Hustle is perhaps its script. It seems like the script a 20 year old film buff would write. For some people, that's great. For me, I expect more out of my films than something oozing clichés and immature dialogue (immature as in lacking depth). The reason why Tarantino is an excellent writer is because he recognizes these tropes and is able to channel them into his highly unique style. Russel simply churns out a mediocre script that attempts to beat the audience over the head with the plot.
It's entertainment enough, however, and the costumes are convincing as is the makeup. Watching Christian Bale for an extended amount of time is always a good thing. But I couldn't see myself recommending it on any serious level beyond that.
Chelsea Girls (1966)
Unique and New
What do most people know Andy Warhol by? It's probably one of three things. His paintings of soup cans, his incredibly long films about literally nothing (like the 7 hour "Empire" starring...the Empire State Building), or his raw legacy as a pop-icon and as a star of counterculture in the '60s. Few people really know that his was a rather prolific film director. Well, not prolific in the standard sense (he never seemed particularly passionate about his cinematic accomplishments), but as far as output of films, he's ahead of many. Now Chelsea Girls is the second Warhol film I've seen (behind Vinyl) and I don't plan on seeing anymore, because Chelsea Girls seemed to be a statement of almost everything Warhol wanted to say.
Chelsea Girls is one of the most important films in a series of avant- garde movies in the 1960's. Besides Brakhage, Warhol is often considered to be the most influential and fresh experimental filmmaker of that time. But why? What makes some three-and-a-half-hour film about nothing so interesting, new, and yet still entertaining and interesting? It's the filming style and creativity of which it is portrayed.
The film is presented with two separate film reels at once, but with only one of the reel's audio. So it's basically like watching one and a half movies at once. Originally, it was the projectionist's choice of which soundtrack was used, but at this point it has become more standardized with the update of digital film.
There are a dozen, 33-minute reels, played two at once, making the film a total of three-and-a-half hours. All of the characters in the movie are those of Warhol's buddies; from dominatrices, to heroin dealers, to corrupt religious officials, to the underground rock star Nico herself.
Oftentimes I'm very intrigued by films showing impoverishment. I can't exactly pinpoint why; it's just something that interests me. Chelsea Girls shows the opposite by displaying some of the most despicable characters ever filmed in cinema, giving an effective "slice-of-life" of these money-obsessed Fellini-esque individuals.
While the second hour is a bit lacking as it ventures more into pointless surrealism when the rest of the film is focused more on the pure dramatic aspects of the characters, the first and third hours of Chelsea Girls are tragic, funny, entertaining, but also give insight and demonstrate brilliant chemistry from the entire ensemble. Additionally, if you ever get bored watching it, just let your eyes drift to the other screen for a while.
Many will talk about the themes of Chelsea Girls. A theory I've taken a liking to it's filmed like a party, where you can hear some people talking, and want to hear everyone and see what's going on, but you know it's impractical (as would be watching Chelsea Girls one reel at a time). I truly believe that the last set of reels, however, is the most important in the whole, non-structured movie. In it, we hear the audio from a corrupt "pope" as he beats a woman, rants, and talks about how "Bride of Frankenstein" is the greatest movie ever, while in the other reel, we simply watch Nico crying while assorted rave lights flash onto her.
This creates a mood of sadness, of weeping for this life, but also a sense of self-awareness. Is Warhol revealing his realizes the chivalry of his, and the cast's, antics? I believe so.
Chelsea Girls is certainly one of the most unique films ever made, and a landmark achievement and must-see for anyone interested in Warhol or experimental cinema.
Les misérables (1934)
The greatest French film ever
Length seems to equate to epic in the general sense of the word nowadays. Cameron's "Avatar" went from being an Oscar worthy sci-fi blockbuster to an Oscar worthy sci-fi epic by upping the length. However, in the case of Avatar, the length doesn't do a huge amount for it, other than finding more crevices to squeeze in the best CGI ever seen in film.
There are plenty more examples, too. Wyler's "Ben-Hur" is a fantastic example of an epic that exists for the sake of being an epic. Sure there are some breathtaking scenes throughout (notably, you guessed it, the spectacular chariot scene finish), but it tends to drag in numerous places; and that's coming from someone who's infatuated with Tarr's seven and a half hour "Satantango".
Or perhaps look at Jackson's "Lord of the Rings" trilogy, which could have been a solid two hours shorter in total at minimum, or Cameron's "Titanic", whose extra length seemed to only provide extra melodrama and sentimentalism. This begs the question, how does one pull of this "epic" film correctly?
Sometimes, it's by sheer quality and scale. Kubrick's "Barry Lyndon" accomplishes this and also is one of the hardest hitting emotional movies I've seen in a while, and I had no actual interest in watching it in the first place. I had a similar experience with Fleming's "Gone With the Wind", which I also loved to death. It seems at this point that the word "epic", or any film with a running time above two and a half or three hours seems to have a few key ingredients: grande scale, impeccable acting, but emotionally aloof and formulaic, and even the former two masterpieces sometimes have these issues in them.
How does Bernard overcome this? What makes his Les Miserables my second favourite film of all time (behind De Sica's "Bicycle Thieves")? The reason is that he has mastered the art of emotional power and comprised it into this four-and-a-half hour magnum opus of French film, while also displaying his immense talent for set production, direction of acting, his technical capabilities, mastery of a myriad of genres...
For those of you unfamiliar with the Les Miserables story (the extended and "real" one I mean, not the watered down Hooper pretty musical version), it goes a little something like this: Jean Valjean is released from prison after a number of years due to his criminal activity within the government's control. Additionally, he now must carry around a voucher explaining that he is a dangerous man and said voucher must be stamped if he is to leave a certain boundary. Due to this, he has grown to be very bitter. A preacher assists him and gives him a quick start to help his life a bit, but Valjean takes advantage of his hospitality and steals from him. When he is arrested, the preacher simply insists that it was a "gift" and that Valjean forgot the rest of his gifts, in this case, two sterling silver candle-holders.
It is in this sequence that the audience can truly see the beauty of humanity, and Bernard is one of the few to have captured this, arguably one of the first, and he is able to do it without melodrama, over indulgence on sentimentality, or even music.
Valjean's life intertwines with a number of other stories, including the saving of an orphan, in addition to numerous others, as he vows to do the best that he possibly can in life after this simple hospitality.
Some scenes in the film are technically brilliant, and criminally overlooked given the time of the production. The steady-cam use in the riot scenes in part three are incredibly ahead of their time, and Bernard's juxtaposition of multiple scenarios in part one (with Valjean's confession) is a direct homage to Griffith's "Intolerance" and Bernard does it better, giving Hitchcock a run for his money as "master of suspense". The power packed in the last half hour is stronger than that of many directors' entire career, and a great portion of this is due to the outstanding performance by Harry Baur as Jean Valjean, who makes Hugh Jackman's performance look like it originated from a B-movie.
As of the time of this writing, the film has 814 votes on IMDb. It's a tragedy how underseen this movie is, but it has garnered an almost unanimous acclaim among the few that have. The story never lags, never becomes boring, and I was literally mesmerized the whole time, never knowing the outcome of the next chapter. It's not a philosophical film, nor does it have a very complex message, but its power comes from its simplicity, it's perfection, its entertainment. It is the ultimate film, and I long for the day that another director is able to make something anywhere close to it.
The Place Beyond the Pines (2012)
Ryan Gosling has been called many things over the years. "Stud". "Overrated". "Talented". "Charismatic". The list goes on. But I prefer the "eternal saviour of indy cinema" myself. While only about a third of Cianfrance's The Place Beyond the Pines focuses on Gosling directly, one can easily see his talent show as it brings this already beautiful film up to a higher level.
Cianfrance, I've read, studied under legends of cinema, notably Stan Brakhage (who is considered to be the greatest American avant-garde director), and this shows. His use of scenery is reminiscent and perhaps pays homage to the films of Malick, and his use of shaky cam but additionally longshots brings forth his technical diversity and cinematic knowledge.
The Place Beyond the Pines is quite possibly the best American film since Malick's own "The Tree of Life", which is a comparison I don't often make. Cooper, Gosling, and nigh every supporting character in the film are about as perfect as one can get, and the plot weaves believably throughout.
Another aspect of the film that invited me was the symbolism, which seemed to not dominate the film as it often can (even with acclaimed masterpieces such as Gilliam's "Brazil") but it was subtle and unique; certainly a rarity in any age of cinema. As another difference to "regular" films, the characters were not perfect. However, directors have caught on to this trick recently, and have made perfect characters with one or two tragic flaws, whereas Cianfrance seems to reverse this, giving us not very appealing characters but that have one or two things that can make them, in essence, good people.
Suspenseful, warm, but also harsh and relentless, The Place Beyond the Pines seems like an essential film that's just a little difficult to watch in places. I won't spoil anything for anybody, but I will say that if you're squeamish at all about violence on other people (and I'm not talking the Tarantino-esque violence that we're so used to), then stay away, find a Starbucks near you and have the time of your life.
There is very, very little to complain about here. The problem is that the film's faults stand out like a normal person at WalMart. While the acting, cinematography, directing, and emotion is all superb, there's just so many scenarios where actors don't act like people. For example (minor spoiler alert), during one of the character's funeral for said character's father, the character in question is barely shown to be impacted emotionally at all, which is, well, out of character. If only Cianfrance could have fine-tuned this, then we would have an essential masterpiece on our hands.
Spring Breakers (2012)
The best film of 2013 so far, an excellent and provocative experience
Oftentimes people will have incorrect expectations when viewing a film. This generally happens with more hyped up films, and I think the biggest example of this is of Welles' "Citizen Kane". You're probably wondering why I would compare such a film as Korine's "Spring Breakers" to something that's considered to be the greatest film of all time, and they honestly have little in common besides the fact that people seem to expect such great (or, flat-out different) things from each film.
Spring Breakers is something of a mixture of genres; each with their own specific feel. It's part avant-garde, part crime comedy, and part satire. It's honestly quite different from any other film I've ever seen.
Korine uses colours in Spring Breakers to give a psychedelic experience, along with images of the "good life" of partying, sexual images, drugs, etc. in order to really get the viewer wrapped up in the feel and the lust for these kinds of things, but Korine doesn't do this to encourage the viewer, but rather the opposite.
The film has an incredible amount of flashbacks. I'd say about 75% of the images in the film are shown again at some point or another. I equate this as Korine is almost showing a memory of a party; you don't remember things in chronological order necessarily, but rather in order of importance, and oftentimes one remembers something over and over if it was particularly...memorable.
Another interesting aspect of the film was that it started out with this trippy half hour, but it slowly turned into a more plot-based film that was more of a crime-drama than this avant-garde looking flick that could have made Stan Brakhage proud. It then slowly degenerated back into this flurry of lights and sounds, perhaps reflecting on the party life never ending and always just repeating itself.
While Franco gives an excellent performance, the girls are mostly wooden in acting. Whether or not this was intentional, I'm not sure. Perhaps it was done due to not give anyone emotional attachment to any of the characters? If so, it would fit hand-in-hand with the total lack of character development.
Even though the film is unique in execution, its message, or rather in this case what it satirizes, has been done since the sixties, if not earlier. It seems as if it was a cop-out in this sense, but luckily it was creative enough to bring something new to the table.
An excellent masterpiece from Korine
1994 is oftentimes considered to be one of the best years for cinema, by both casual viewers, cinephiles, and hardcore film history buffs alike. We received films that would please all audiences; Zemeckis' "Forrest Gump", Tarantino's "Pulp Fiction", Kieslowski's "Three Colours: Red", Burton's "Ed Wood", Tarr's "Satantango", the list goes on. As such, it's easy to pass over a film that came out that year which, in reality, was quite influential, more so than some of the previously mentioned movies. That film was Clark's "Kids" (IMDb has it listed as 1995, but it premiered at film festivals in '94). While it was met with mixed reviews at the time (and mixed reviews now), it was seen as one of the first films that really had this bold statement about American youth, and that was that so many of them were these sex-addicted, hopeless stoners with meaningless lives.
While Larry Clark directed this, Harmony Korine, 19 at the time, wrote the script and had a major influence on the film. Van Sant (whose film "Elephant", as I stated previously, makes him a more than capable director) cited that Korine would be "the face of postermodern American directors", and Werner Herzog ("Aguirre: The Wrath of God") also gave similar praises.
The partial writer for one film, however, doesn't get such praises. A mere three years later, Korine released what is known now to be one of the most unsettling, disturbing, and downright unusual films in the form of Gummo. Surprisingly enough, the critical reaction for Gummo has been worse than that of "Kids". A possible explanation for this is that "Kids" is simply more viewer-friendly. Any 30+ year old film buff with a decent taste could probably watch "Kids" and at least get a bit of perspective, while maybe questioning the youth of the nation.
Gummo doesn't have any questions to ask though. It's more of a work of art that is absolutely disgusting to look at, yet fascinating in every way. So, for a comparison, it would be like if Van Gogh crashed two cars together at exactly 39.4 miles per hour, with them perpendicular to one another, with no wind in the air. It might seem pointless at first, but you may need to look a bit closer to truly analyze the themes of Gummo.
The opening scenes describe how a tornado has destroyed the town of Xenia, Ohio, and we then begin viewing the residents of the town trying to find meaning in their pointless, hopeless, and overall miserable lives.
Korine stated once that about 75% of Gummo was scripted. Upon rewatching the film, I can hardly determine where the realism starts and where the fiction ends. I've often times commended directors for having a sort of "surrealism realism" as Von Trier did so magically with his masterpiece "Dogville", and Korine takes it to a whole new level. The documentary feel adds to the film spectacularly because it forces the viewer to confront reality: that, somewhere in the world, there are people who behave as the characters in Gummo do.
Even the name of Gummo is symbolic in a few ways. The name "Gummo" is named after the oldest of the Marx brothers, who were notable for their anarchist comedy, which Gummo is to some extent. However, the oldest Marx Brother never appeared on camera; he was always more indirectly involved with cinema. Korine, here, is stating that Gummo is something new; something cinema has literally never seen before, even if it has seen its "relatives" ("Kids" possibly?)
There are a number of assumptions that reviewers make when discussing the film; I'm not suggesting any of these are right or wrong, but they do exist. Some suggest that the town is made up of Satanists, which is how they are able to live in a near trance-like state throughout the film and simply accept the horrors of their lives. These conclusions are most likely also drawn from the images of self harm used in the film, as well as heavy metal taking up a good portion of Gummo's soundtrack. Other say that the film is a more real-life portrait of a post- apocalyptic scenario, stripping man down to his bare bones and showing what he really is.
Curiously, only a single character in Gummo is shown to have any pathos attached to him whatsoever. This character is Tummler, who is seen to feel overwhelming depression in the film as it leaks over into the audience at times. It's not even sadness about poverty, or loneliness, but rather a state of hatred for anything and everything, the feeling of wanting to be dead, or at the very least have something to give life meaning.
Gummo hits the audience over the head repeatedly with its horrors of this small town wasteland. Teens addicted to sniffing glue, teens buying down-syndrome prostitutes, teens making a competition over who can kill the most cats to sell to a local restaurant, etc. Although his approach is heavy-handed, it has an artistic purpose: some people live like this, and Korine is letting us see within his mind for an hour and a half. There are parts which are nearly impossible to watch, but the film has this unusually captivating "feel" to it, which is enhanced by the incredible cinematography.
It's not easy to watch, it's not fun to watch, and it is also incoherent at times. The comparison could be made that watching Gummo is like reading about the Holocaust; neither are fun to watch, and the imagery is nauseating at times, yet many people are fascinated by it, not in a sadistic sense of the word, but merely fascinated by the fact that it happened. I'm amazed that a film like Gummo was made, yet I'm satisfied with its existence.
Fight Club (1999)
Misunderstood by many
What's the first rule of Fight Club again? Ask this question at almost any workplace, high school, or public environment in America and you're sure to get a response. "The first rule of Fight Club is you do not talk about Fight Club". It's every teen's favourite film, and contains their favourite quote. Yet many people seem to overlook the discreet charm of Fight Club.
The film basically follows like this: an average, stereotypical working- class man finds that his average, everyday life goes through a series of changes after meeting several characters throughout the movie. The first of these characters is Bob, a man with testicular cancer who gives Norton's character the desire to try and help, as he becomes addicted to the feeling of not being judged.
Norton's character then notices an oddity in these groups, a fellow "poser". This is Marla Singer, who he feels is stopping him from truly feeling this euphoria he felt earlier. Over time, he and Marla arrange a schedule in which they will each meet at different therapy sessions so they don't have to confront each other, which satisfies Norton's character.
But then he meets the infamous Tyler Durden, who literally embodies everyone we want to be. Did you ever want to make that racist joke in a meeting that would have provoked laughs from anyone and everyone, but were afraid to? Don't worry, Tyler made it. And he's happy he did.
Tyler, as a character, is symbolic of a man's dream life. While we generally cling to our own safety, all of us, at one point or another, want to do something big, something crazy, and be free for once in life. Tyler is this freedom.
The rest of the film shows the progression of Norton's character slowly turning into a character more and more similar to Tyler as the two of them work together to produce a massive crime empire known as Project Mayhem, after, that is, they set up underground fight clubs all over the local area.
Tyler and Marla become friends with benefits, although without the friends part. Bob ends up being shot after a prank involving a giant globe and a coffee shop goes wrong. Norton's character questions life and death, and what his life really means. But these are all just plot points to progress and add to the film's parallelism, which is, in essence, that we all strive for freedom even though we live our lives in safety.
Fight Club is unique in that it doesn't make a true and to-the-point statement. It just forces you to ask questions about life. "This is your life, and it's ending one minute at a time," Norton's character famously cites. "Is what I'm doing right now contributing to making my life the best it can be?" Maybe that's the question Fight Club demands its viewers to ask.
But, like Van Sant's "Elephant", Fincher's Fight Club will never have a definitive answer. We will never know everything about the film, about its obscure ideas, nor what it really wants the viewer to think of or do. It sets up plot points and abandons them, and although it seems to have a clearly set narrative, it doesn't seem to concern itself with a plot. It simply moves on ahead, not concerned with its infinite plot inconsistencies.
Although the films seem about as different as they come, you could make quite an interesting comparison to this and "Elephant". They both bring up interesting and sometimes dark questions, and the truth is that we as an audience will never fully understand them, and one guess is as good as the other. Is Norton's character schizophrenic? Is it all a surreal dream, as is Lynch's "Mulholland Dr."? Who knows?
Beautiful and Stunning
One of the main complains of Bigelow's "Zero Dark Thirty" was the fact that she made a film about the hunt for Bin Laden so soon after the actual event happened. Many radical people from many political parties were able to find common ground here, angered by the idea that someone would use something as gruesome as 9/11 for just a few bucks.
I can only hope that these disillusioned individuals have never seen Van Sant's minimalist, low budget masterpiece Elephant. It's films like this that really propel the reason to watch Indy films in general, and this is an Indy film done right: it uses amateur actors properly (via the use of improvisation), its directing style is unique, but more importantly, it brings something new to the table that would infuriate mainstream directors, not to mention cause incredible controversy.
In case you didn't know, Elephant is a film that is similar to the Columbine shootings in that it was made shortly afterwards, and attempts to merely show the events how the director interprets them, as he asks us to interpret his vision. There are some very interesting aspects of Elephant. You could probably fit the entire script into a single page, and you could also fit most of the timeframe in the movie in about fifteen minutes.
The style of cinematography is strikingly similar to that of Tarr's seven hour epic "Satantango", in that it features long tracking shots of characters accompanied with beautiful or bleak music, which really adds to the beauty of Elephant. What do these tracking shots mean? Is Van Sant trying to show that every moment in life is beautiful? To cherish your high school days? That life can be so amazing and then all of the sudden it's over? We'll probably never know for sure.
Elephant is also notable in how little violence it shows, as well as its use of "fantasy realism", a filming technique used in Coppola's "Apocalypse Now". What this term refers that the film seems to show a realistic view of a fantasy world; many events in the film are highly unlikely, but they're treated with such care it's easy to overlook this and see it as fact.
Van Sant proposes many ideologies in Elephant, although it's easy to be isolated and have no idea what he really wants to say. In the film, many stereotypes are exploited, predominantly those of the two school shooters. The film suggests that gun control should be enforced. The film suggests the shooters are influenced by violent video games. The film suggests that bullying is the reason for the shooting. The film suggests the two shooters are influenced by Hitler. The film suggests its shooters are closeted homosexuals. Is this satire at its most subliminal? Who knows.
I truly believe that Van Sant was showing that there are no reasons for school shootings, just as there is, technically speaking, no need for the first 2/3rds of the film. It doesn't matter what the deceased teens discussed in the halls, nor what another ate for lunch that day. It doesn't matter the girl that got picked on was assigned library duty, nor, as Van Sant suggests, does it matter why the killings happened. He just presents the killings as maybe a love letter to the deceased children of the Columbine shootings.
Since Elephant is so minimalist, with only a marginal amount of character conversations, every word is important. What statement is Van Sant trying to make? Life is precious? Life is worthless? The media focuses too much on the reasons for shootings like this, and not the people? We may never know, and that's the beauty of Elephant. Its finesse comes from its unclear vision. We have ideas of what it means, but there are no facts about Elephant, just as Elephant produces no facts. It simply, for lack of a better word, exists.