Friday, August 26, 2011

Movies to Recommend by Genre

Well, I haven't posted in a while, but now that school's starting up again, I'll probably have a lot more relative downtime and focus on my hands, and can work out some stuff. I don't know for sure which director I'll do next, but I'm thinking after two directors who's stars have been rising it's time to do a dwindling gem, like Oliver Stone. Anyway, I made this list because a friend asked me if there were any movies I could recommend to her, and I have no sense of scale.

I’ll include the top 10 films of each genre that I’ve seen. Message me if I forget a genre or two. Also, I made sure that no movies are on both lists, so some movies got robbed (I would have put Blues Brothers in comedy and musicals, for example). Also, some are stacked because they exemplify the genre better, even if I don’t like them as much as others farther down the list (Inception is lower in the Mystery section than Memento, for example).

Comedy (for Horror Comedies, Romantic Comedies, and Black Comedies, see below)
  1. The Blues Brothers (four fried chickens… and a coke)
  2. Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy
  3. Monty Python’s Life of Brian (Better than Holy Grail)
  4. Wayne’s World (It’s Excellent!)
  5. Ghostbusters (and now I want a Twinkie)
  6. The Big Lebowski (the world’s greatest parody)
  7. Hot Fuzz (secretly a parody of Chinatown)
  8. Robin Hood: Men in Tights
  9. History of the World, Part 1 (there is no part 2, but it’s the full title)
  10. Groundhog Day
Period Drama
  1. Seven Samurai (if you see any movie from before you were born, see this one)
  2. Gladiator (ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED?!)
  3. Pan’s Labyrinth (Guillermo del Toro’s magnum opus)
  4. Citizen Kane (maybe the greatest movie of all time. maybe)
  5. Days of Heaven (remember when Terrence Malick was kind of normal?)
  6. The Prestige (revenge is a dish best drowned)
  7. Rashomon
  8. Amadeus (It was not I that pu this film here. IT WAS GOD!)
  9. Gangs of New York
  10. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (suck it Forrest Gump)
Romantic Comedy
  1. Annie Hall (Woody Allen’s greatest work)
  2. Roman Holiday (Audrey Hepburn’s greatest acting)
  3. It Happened One Night (also His Girl Friday and Bringing Up Baby)
  4. High Fidelity (John Cusack being way too good)
  5. When Harry Met Sally… (Oh god YES!)
  6. (500) Days of Summer (the ending to this movie is what you make of it)
  7. Chasing Amy (Man meets Woman. Man falls in Love. Woman is a Lesbian)
  8. Forgetting Sarah Marshall
  9. Music and Lyrics (I don’t like Notting Hill, Love Actually, or Sense and Sensibility)
  10. Definitely, Maybe (I heart Ryan Reynolds so much)
Musicals (I still haven’t seen Singin’ in the Rain. Sue me.)
  1. West Side Story (feel free to judge me, but if Sondheim didn’t top the list, something is wrong)
  2. A Hard Day’s Night (It counts!)
  3. Funny Girl
  4. The Wizard of Oz
  5. Chicago (and all that jazz)
  6. Boyz N The Hood (IT COUNTS!)
  7. This Is Spinal Tap (technically a concert movie parody, but whatever)
  8. Fiddler on the Roof (JEWS!)
  9. Victor/Victoria
  10. Dreamgirls (proving once again that American Idol ain’t worth shit)
Noir (Let’s play a game called Heist, Murder, or Conspiracy)
  1. The Maltese Falcon (I want to be Sam Spade)
  2. Casablanca (Ingrid Bergman wishes she was Diane Keaton)
  3. Sunset Blvd. (I’m ready for my close-up, Mr. DeMille)
  4. The Big Sleep (The single most unorganized series of murders ever)
  5. The Killing (Stanley Kubrick does Noir. SO COOL!)
  6. The Third Man (Orson Welles pulls a Judi Dench before Judi Dench does)
  7. Double Indemnity 
  8. The Blue Dahlia (original)
  9. Touch of Evil (Orson Welles again)
  10. Dead On Arrival
Mystery (or, neo-noir’s highlights) NOTE: I have not seen most of Hitchcock’s masterpieces, and thus they are absent from the list. Also, for the really good Mysteries, check Noir.
  1. Memento (This is the end of the list, even though it comes first)
  2. The Usual Suspects (The last five minutes are the best five minutes of film. Ever)
  3. Chinatown (Roman Polanski gets it right in a BIG way)
  4. Inception (Technically a heist, but also a mystery)
  5. L.A. Confidential (Because Kevin Spacy MUST appear twice)
  6. Rear Window (one of the only Hitchcock movies I’ve seen)
  7. Shutter Island
  8. In The Heat Of The Night (They call me Mr. Tibbs!)
  9. Brick (SEE THIS MOVIE! It’s a favorite, made on a tiny budget)
  10. Oldboy (revenge and incest)
Black Comedy (or How the Coen Brothers and Terry Gilliam run a Genre) 
  1. Fight Club (okay, so this is David Fincher)
  2. Dr. Strangelove: or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb(and this is Stanley Kubrick)
  3. In Bruges (and this is Martin McDonagh)
  4. Brazil (but this is Terry Gilliam)
  5. Barton Fink (and this is Coen Brothers)
  6. Fargo (Coen)
  7. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (Gilliam)
  8. The Adventures of Baron von Munchausen (Gilliam)
  9. Raising Arizona (Coen)
  10. The Room (Wiseau…wait, how did this get here?)
  1. Silence of the Lambs (AAAAAAGH!)
  2. The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari (German expressionism that isn’t M)
  3. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (the original, but the remake is good)
  4. Alien (Haunted house…. IN SPACE!)
  5. The Shining (…red…rum…redrum…redrum, Redrum, REDRUM!)
  6. Let The Right One In (This movie is too beautiful)
  7. Carrie (can we all acknowledge that Sissy Spacek is amazing?)
  8. Nosferatu (FW Murnau strikes again!)
  9. Dawn of the Dead (the remake)
  10. Dawn of the Dead (the original)
Horror Comedy
  1. Shaun of the Dead
  2. Evil Dead 2 (especially the scene with the possessed hand)
  3. Zombieland (“Is there anything you regret?” “Nothing… Garfield”
  4. Dead Alive (The only OTHER excellent Peter Jackson movie)
  5. Gremlins (created the PG-13 rating)
  6. An American Werewolf in London
  7. Beetlejuice (Tim Burton’s last original plot)
  8. Abbot and Costello meet Frankenstein
  9. Black Sheep (a semi-lost gem)
  10. Young Frankenstein (“He would have an enormous schwanzstucker” “Well that goes without saying”)
Biopic (I could make a top 30 of this category and still make some painful cuts. Raging Bull isn’t on here!)
  1. Schindler’s List (the best “serious” Spielberg movie)
  2. GoodFellas (Martin Scorcese’s best film)
  3. Walk The Line (Would be number one on my Musicals, but here instead)
  4. Malcolm X (The closest we’ll get to an MLK Jr. Biopic. That’s sad)
  5. The Aviator (Howard Hughs wants this to be 5.5, exactly in the center)
  6. Lawrence of Arabia (Not accurate. Still good)
  7. Capote (Philip Seymour Hoffman thought he was terrible in this. HE IS WRONG!)
  8. The Elephant Man (David Lynch, return to sanity!)
  9. Erin Brockovitch (Look kids! Steven Soderbergh is doing something awesome so he can do something stupid later)
  10. Patton (One of cinema’s greatest speeches)
  1. Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (don’t try to tell me this doesn’t count)
  2. Fantasia (Yes, above all other Disney movies, this is the greatest)
  3. The Secret of Nimh (Don Bluth tries his damnest to frighten small children)
  4. Princess Mononoke (Miyazaki’s best work)
  5. Spirited Away 
  6. Aladin
  7. My Neighbor Totoro
  8. Paprika (RIP Satoshi Kon. Now if only people stopped robbing your grave.)
  9. Beauty and the Beast
  10. AKIRA (if there’s anything you don’t understand about this film, Ask me)
Animation-Stop Motion
  1. Chicken Run 
  2. The Nightmare Before Christmas 
  3. Fantastic Mr. Fox (one of the only Wes Anderson films I’ve seen)
  4. Mary and Max 
  5. Joseph the Dreamer
  6. James and the Giant Peach
  7. The Magic Pipe (really unique and beautiful)
  8. The Book of the Dead
  9. Corpse Bride
  10. $9.99 (disgusting and I love it)
Animation-CGI (Pixar except for three)
  1. Toy Story Trilogy (this is cheating, deal with it)
  2. WALL-E (Robot Love!)
  3. Up (the first ten minutes is the best opening to a movie, ever)
  4. How To Train Your Dragon (I like this movie too much)
  5. The Incredibles
  6. Finding Nemo
  7. Monsters, Inc.
  8. Tangled (Almost Pixar, not quite)
  9. Ratatouille
  10. TMNT (Guilty Pleasure)
High Fantasy (Actually my least favorite film genre)
  1. Lord of the Rings (all three, extended edition)
  2. The Princess Bride (It counts. There are inexplicable things that occur!)
  3. The Black Cauldron
  4. Conan the Barbarian (original)
  5. The Beastmaster
  6. Legend (Tim Curry as The Devil. Perfect!)
  7. Excalibur
  8. Merlin
  9. Ladyhawke
  10. The Chronicles of Narnia (the new ones are pretty good)
  1. Apocalypse Now (So good I want to kill Francis Ford Coppola for making anything after it)
  2. Grand Illusion (certainly the most beautiful war film ever)
  3. Paths of Glory (Kirk Douglas called this his greatest achievement in cinema)
  4. Full Metal Jacket (Stanley Kubrick creates Adam Baldwin. Geeks everywhere cheer)
  5. Saving Private Ryan
  6. The Thin Red Line (Terrence Malick is loved by stars everywhere)
  7. M*A*S*H
  8. Life is Beautiful (Cheating again. I don’t care)
  9. Empire of the Sun (Almost cheating, but not really)
  10. Born on the Fourth of July (Some people think Platoon is better. They are wrong)
  1. Unforgiven (Clint Eastwood at a directoral high)
  2. Once Upon a Time in the West
  3. The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly (And the Spaghetti Western is perfected)
  4. Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid
  5. The Searchers
  6. Tombstone
  7. The Magnificent Seven
  8. High Noon
  9. Blazing Saddles
  10. Stagecoach (Trivia: Orson Welles watched this on repeat to make Citizen Kane)
Science Fiction (And now, for this edition, what author[s] inspired these films?)
  1. 2001: A Space Odyssey (Clarke)
  2. Blade Runner (Dick)
  3. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn (Melville, Milton, and Shakespeare)
  4. Metropolis (Tolstoy… kinda)
  5. Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back (Kurosawa)
  6. The Day the Earth Stood Still (Bates)
  7. Planet of the Apes (the original, and Boulle)
  8. Aliens (The Vietnam War)
  9. Total Recall (Dick)
  10. Moon (Clarke)
  1. City Lights (Charlie Chaplin rules!)
  2. Greed
  3. The Gold Rush
  4. Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans
  5. Intolerance
  6. Greed
  7. The General (Buster Keaton looses to Chaplin again)
  8. Sherlock Jr.
  9. The Phantom of the Opera (not the musical)
  10. The Passion of Joan of Arc (NOT to be confused with The Passion of Christ)
  1. Good Will Hunting (Ben Affleck’s first sign of genius)
  2. Stand By Me (so good it hurts to watch sometimes)
  3. Almost Famous 
  4. The Last Picture Show (Jeff Bridges became famous because of this)
  5. My Life As A Dog (this should be under Swedish films, but I like it here better)
  6. Secondhand Lions (Ladies and Gentlemen, Haley Joel Osment has grown up)
  7. American Graffiti (George Lucas was better when he was younger)
  8. The Graduate
  9. The Breakfast Club (We can never know if this is really a Coming-of-Age tale, but I like to think it is)
  10. Lord of the Flies
Martial Arts (For this edition, the stars that drive the picture will accompany them)
  1. Way of the Dragon (Bruce Lee)
  2. Shaolin Soccer (Stephen Chow)
  3. Drunken Master (Jackie Chan)
  4. Ong Bak (Tony Jaa)
  5. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (Chow Yun-Fat)
  6. Kill Bill (Uma Thurman)
  7. Fearless (Jet Li)
  8. Kung Fu Hustle (Stephen Chow)
  9. Once Upon a Time in China (Jet Li)
  10. Fist of Fury (Bruce Lee)
Foreign-Swedish (Or How Many Ingmar Bergman Films Have I Seen. By the way, only numbers 8 and 9 aren't Bergman-directed. Aslo, My Life as a Dog and Let The Right One In would both be on this list if they hadn’t already been used)
  1. Fanny and Alexander
  2. Persona
  3. Wild Strawberries
  4. Smiles of a Summer Night
  5. Scenes from a Marriage
  6. Autumn Sonata
  7. The Virgin Spring
  8. Pelle the Conquerer (technically a Danish film, directed by Billie August)
  9. Dancer in the Dark (one of the most depressing films ever, directed by Lars Von Trier)
  10. Shame
Foreign-Italian (See above, but replace Ingmar Bergman with Frederico Fellini, this time all but 2, 4, 8, and 9
  1. 8 1/2
  2. Cinema Paradiso (Giuseppe Tornatore directs)
  3. La Dolce Vita
  4. L’Avventura (Michelangelo Antonioni directs)
  5. La Strada
  6. Nights of Cabiria
  7. Amarcord
  8. Amici Miei (Mario Monicelli directs)
  9. Divorce, Italian Style (Pietro Germi directs)
  10. Juliet of the Spirits
Foreign-Japanese (Not actually going to make a list, just watch ten Kurosawa films. I’ve used too many of them in other lists already)

Foreign-British (This counts! Lawrence of Arabia should be number 1, Kubrick and Lean would fill this list more often, but their films are scattered throughout)
  1. A Clockwork Orange
  2. Bridge Over The River Kwai
  3. Trainspotting
  4. Barry Lyndon
  5. The Ladykillers (the original)
  6. Don’t Look Now
  7. Doctor Zhivago
  8. Get Carter
  9. Hamlet (Kenneth Branaugh)
  10. The Crying Game
Low-Budget Films (under $1 million budget)
  1. Following (budget of $6,000)
  2. Night of the Living Dead ($114,000)
  3. Once ($160,000)
  4. THX 1138 ($777,777.77)
  5. The Evil Dead ($350,000)
  6. Clerks ($27,575)
  7. El Mariachi ($7,000)
  8. Little Shop of Horrors (the original, $30,000, filmed in two days!)
  9. Mad Max ($400,000)
  10. Paranormal Activity ($15,000)

    Tuesday, May 24, 2011

    Top 25 Most Influential Directors

    Okay, so I filled out this survey on which directors I thought were the most influential. I enjoyed making the list, and so I thought I'd post it on my blog.

    Top 25 Most Influential Directors (In My Opinion)

    1. Fritz Lang, natch. M has had such a pervasive influence on the genre of noir that it can almost be counted the first noir film, though it is still firmly rooted in German Expressionism. Metropolis has had even more profound an effect, fundamentally defining science-fiction films for decades after its creation. His style is the definition of directorial artistry.

    2. John Ford. From his classics to his forgettables, he remains the greatest influence on many directors even today. Stagecoach is a film that not only influenced every western that came after it, it was so influential that Orson Welles said he watched it countless times in preparation for Citizen Kane. Such is the power of John Ford.

    3. Jean-Luc Godard. He invented the concept of independent film, from casting to filming to production. He invented anachronistic storytelling that has made Quentin Tarantino famous. He invented the long take, the jump cut, talking at the camera, that the sound could differ greatly from the image, and other techniques. He is a fabulous filmmaker who is still alive today, making fabulous films.

    4. Alfred Hitchcock. The first true auteur, he made every suspense a thrill, every scare a scream, and terrified/mystified audiences for so many years and so many movies that he has literally seeped into legend as one of the greatest directors who ever lived. The modern suspense/thriller movie and practically every horror movie owes this man their existence.

    5. D. W. Griffith. Okay, so this one should probably be higher up, and I mostly lowered him because he can be a bit formulaic and his films tend to blur together after a while. However, he pioneered so much of the entire idea of film that one cannot make a list of influential directors without mentioning him. He practically invented close-ups. No, really.

    6. Stanley Kubrick. Whoops, turns out the best director ever has had some influence on film, who'd have thought. While he did not invent the "art" film, he certainly made the biggest ones, redefining what a truly artistic director could do. His films further execute massive influence on their genres (2001 on Sci-Fi, The Shining on thrillers, etc.), and he has carved out a distinguished place in history.

    7. Federico Fellini. I... dislike Fellini, think he's over-rated. His style, however, has been copied endlessly to the point where a big and exaggerated movie is considered en vogue. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, as it more or less has led directly to the world of (good) surreal filmmaking. And even the best and most original of these films owe something of a tribute to Fellini.

    8. Steven Spielberg. Invented the blockbuster. THANK YOU!!!!!!!! WE LOVE YOU STEVEN!!!!!!!

    9. Orson Welles. I hesitate to put him this high up, though others would have put him higher. While Citizen Kane may be the greatest film of all time, and the most examined of all time, it is still one film. Yes, the deep focus it turned on life and a great, troubled man's story is monumental, and a deserving spot for #9. But no further. 

    10. Charlie Chaplin. He discovered that in order to reach the largest audience, he had to make his movies fun and funny. Given that he did this mostly during the Silent Age of Hollywood, this belies his talent. His influence is still found in every G-rated film that still manages to comment on society as a whole, and in every romantic comedy that truly explores what it means to be an adult in today's culture.

    11. Martin Scorsese. While his films are about fantastically abstract ideas such as aggression, passion, and insanity, the real influence is from his crime films. I could tell you that it is his intensity for filmmaking that makes him noteworthy, or his artistic style that has influenced other directors. But his movies' crime, grit, and violence are what he's truly given cinema. And it is beautiful.

    12. Akira Kurosawa. George Lucas, Sergio Leone, John Sturges. One need look no further than these directors to truly feel the influence Akira Kurosawa has had on the world of film. Much like Fritz Lang's M, his Yojimbo basically defines Spaghetti Westerns without being one. His storytelling style is such that, no matter the facet of Japan he filmed, he could tell its story universally to every culture.

    13. Ingmar Bergman. Emotion made real on film. He defined what lighting effects were truly about, using such dynamic lighting techniques that he displayed clearly even the most hidden of film's secrets. His stories are fabulously influential (chess with Death especially comes to mind), and his emotions palpable in others films even after many years.

    14. Walt Disney. If you don't live under a rock, I shouldn't have to explain this one. While not strictly a director, he has had more influence on animation than any other person, ever. Bar none. He did not invent the animated feature, but he made it viable. He may not have invented merchandising (Charlie Chaplin again), but he made it dynamic. He did, however, invent our childhoods. All of ours.

    15. John Huston. The world of noir loves John Huston, and he loves it back. The Maltese Falcon was the turning point for noir, but he kept it going with more and more films that pushed more and more the boundaries of their genre. Action, comedy, adventure, character studies, on and on he went until he simply had no more life to give us. There is no genre today that does not owe him a tip of the hat.

    16. Francis Ford Coppola. If Martin Scorsese is the father of crime film, this man is the godfather (pun intended). What made GoodFellas possible? The Godfather. What made Oliver Stone's Platoon possible? Apocalypse Now. Even today, his directorial talent is felt in every movie where a man contemplates what he has become, where a man destroys with glee and sadism, where the battlefield is revered.

    17. Howard Hawks. Turns out that the highly influential for their genre films Bringing Up Baby (screwball comedy's daddy), The Big Sleep (a noir titan), Sergeant York (a highly pervasive war film), and Scarface (seriously, gangster film incarnate) all have the same director, and it's this guy. That about sums it up.

    18. Jean Renoir. A man who understood before anyone else did what film was truly capable of. He was so far ahead of his time that his films still hold up in a big way. This is the one who discovered that lighting, focus, and camera angle were each parts that could interact and intersect with one another to illustrate new film techniques.

    19. Sergei Eisenstein. I don't particularly like this one, either. He does deserve a place on here, because he invented the film montage. I guess his style is also fairly influential, and his movies have become revered classics for the world of film. The Battleship Potemkin is still today very influential in both terms of shots and ambiance. And he theorized what eventually became trailers.

    20. David Lean. While Francis Ford Coppola was writing Patton, I cannot imagine that David Lean's Lawrence of Arabia was far from his mind. In the end, Lean's effect on the film is so profound that they resonate almost perfectly. Dozens of directors name him to be a direct influence on their art, among them Spielberg, Scorsese, Lucas, and even Mel Brooks.

    21. F. W. Murnau. He directed so much of German Expressionist that at this point it is easier to list the horror films he didn't influence than the ones he did. Also, he was one of the first directors to use original scores for his film's music. Nosferatu is without a doubt the most influential vampire film of all time, and Sunrise is still considered one of the best movies ever.

    22. Yaujiro Ozu. A bit of an oddity, this man could not make a normal movie to save his life. All of his movies were filmed at floor level, with sudden cuts, or no cuts, or no movement at all. His films are strange. However, many artistic filmmakers are drawn to this unique style, and see the value in its storytelling potential. His movies have influenced many, especially Tokyo Story.

    23. Elia Kazan. Frankly, even I am shocked it took me this long to mention him. He is credited with the creation of Method Acting. He is further credited as the greatest actor's director who has ever lived. His films showed the world what acting really was, showed us the power and warmth and terror in every scene. His style of directing actors is the most influential style, ever. And he's the reason Martin Scorsese makes films.

    24. Woodey Allen. The most neurotic success story of all time. How he crept onto this list I will, perhaps, never know, but I do know that his style has been imitated endlessly. His confessional, unrelenting comedy is somehow both incredibly intelligent and delivered as though he were a Marx brother. It is something he has perfected that other people (Coen Bros) have built their careers on.

    25. Andrei Tarkovsky. It kills me that he is lower than Eisenstein, but I do believe he is less influential. His films were undeniably cooler and better than Eisenstein's (in my opinion, anyway), because Tarkovsky had more of an affect on the way we viewed film than anything else. Solaris' long held shots are perfect examples of this, and quivers of it can be felt in Kubrick's 2001. The dreamlike effect was an influence unto itself.

    Deserving of mention is Peter Yates, for directing the chase scene in Bullitt that basically has come to define chase scenes, but had an otherwise mixed career, and was overall not very influential. Also, Judd Apatow, who has come to define modern comedy that isn't already defined by the Coen Brothers. Speaking of which, the Coen Brothers and Terry Gilliam for defining Black Comedy. Ridley Scott for Blade Runner and Gladiator, huge influences on the sci-fi and historical epic genres in their modern state. James Cameron for the new definition of "Box-Office Hit", as well as setting a new watermark for fantastic imagery with Avatar. Also, George A. Romero for the zombies, but not much else in the way of actual filmmaking. Not that his films are bad (though some of them are), he just hasn't had that much of an impact on film as a whole. None of these directors have, which is why I omitted them.

    Various directors not included but still very influential that if I do not mention someone will start foaming at the mouth include:
    Victor Fleming
    Michael Curtiz
    Frank Capra
    Billy Wilder (by far the hardest cut I had to make)
    Sergio Leone (though he is mentioned in the article twice)
    Mel Brooks
    Brian de Palma
    ...Tim Burton (sigh)
    Clint Eastwood
    Hayao Miyazaki
    Quentin Tarantino, but only in the 90's

    Thursday, May 19, 2011

    Directors: Rian Johnson

         I was not, dear readers, completely honest in my assessment of myself in the last entry. While I do, for the most part, enjoy each genre fairly equally, there is one standout in my mind. For me, the noir genre has produced the very best that cinema has to offer. It fully grasps the ideas of escape and realism. It utilizes some of the most influential lighting and cinematography ever. And, perhaps most importantly, it is cool. Very, very cool.

         It is for this reason that I tend to enjoy films revolving around the more noir-like themes more often than those without. I enjoy many of David Fincher’s movies for this reason, as I discussed in my review of his works. I do not enjoy noir simply for the sake of the genre, however. I simply find that some of the best movies I have seen are noir or reflect noir in some way. I dislike bad noir films just as much as I dislike bad romantic comedies, but I find there to be more of the latter than the former. And now I’m rambling.

         The point is, noir is a fun genre to watch, and because of this I have found my directorial soulmate. His name is Rian Johnson and he is legitimately perfect. In his directorial debut, he gave us Brick, a remake of The Maltese Falcon, updated for modern cinema, starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt (this is the movie that made me take him seriously as an actor after Third Rock from the Sun). And with all the characters in high school. It is difficult to explain just how perfectly this film apes the traditional noir narrative. Even little details, like the sound the shoes make during a chase scene just screams of noir. Rian Johnson said of it "Teen movies often have an unspoken underlying premise in which high school is seen as less serious than the adult world. But when your head is encased in that microcosm it's the most serious time of your life." That explain the utter seriousness of the film better than I ever could. Oh, and he made it without the assistance of a studio, with only $500,000. Tommy Wiseau’s The Room was made with more money than that!

         His second film was The Brothers Bloom, starring Mark Ruffalo, Rachel Weisz, and Adrian Brody in the only role I ever liked him in. Its a fabulous story about con men that, again, screams noir but is much more light-handed with it than brick, even acknowledging the various noir twists that it uses. As it is a story about con artistry, it doubles as a story about stories, about lies, and about perception. It’s really quite a fabulous comedy, with serious gripping drama and incredibly likable characters. A well-made movie if there ever was one.

         His upcoming film is a picture called Looper, which will probably get a lot more attention than his previous film, by sheer dint of having Bruce Willis in it. He and Gordon-Levitt will be playing the same character in a story involving crime and time travel. Is noir going sci-fi? Well, they certainly have before. One can only hope this film is as good as Ghost In The Shell.

         Because his credits are so short, there is little we can conclude about Rian Johnson. According to an interview with Indy Mogul, Johnson places a lot more emphasis on his characters than anything else when making a movie, and it shows in his films. We get strong emotions and motivations from even the smallest of characters in Brick. In fact, Brad Bramish only appears for three scenes, and only speaks in two of them, but he has a large effect on the plot and is a memorable character from the movie despite not being a major character nor having a standout performance (though Brian J. White does a great job).

         Rian Johnson also has a great deal of skill with screenwriting. I found both his movies to be finely tuned masterpieces that kept the plot tightly wound, with the audience always able to understand what was going on while still being kept in suspense what would happen next. He also has a deft skill for dialogue, with Brick being the major example. The characters speak in twenties slang the entire time, but the audience has no trouble understanding what they’re saying because of simple contextual clues both in the dialogue and in the shot. The dialogue of The Brothers Bloom is witty and fast-paced, with good comedic and dramatic timing.

         While Rian Johnson has many influences, it seems clear to me that the classic crime and noir films have greatly augmented his works. Most importantly, he does not simply mimic the works he influences, nor does he attempt to make the movie an in-joke for film buffs. His films are both accessible and unique. While one may look at Brick and call it the same movie as The Maltese Falcon, it is so fundamentally different in its execution and beauty that one can easily justify its existence. Moreover, one does not need to be familiar with film noir to enjoy it, and indeed a lack of knowledge may even make the movie more enjoyable.

         I love his movies. I sincerely believe that he is the greatest up-and-coming director today (apart from maybe Duncan Jones), and more than anything I want to be filthy, stinking rich so that I can give him lots of money so he can keep making movies for me to enjoy. Hopefully, he’ll keep up with the level of quality of the movies he’s put out so far, and not turn out to be a major disappointment (I’m looking at YOU David Gordon Green). If you have the opportunity, go and rent Brick and The Brothers Bloom. You’ll thank me later.

    Sunday, May 15, 2011

    Directors: David Fincher

         Throughout my experiences with movies, I became less and less interested in following actors. I altogether stopped caring what the next movie Brad Pitt would appear in, or if Kiera Knightly was really attached to play whatever character. Furthermore, I could not seize upon a single genre of film, whether it be outrageous comedy, high-octane action, or stylized surrealism. It was then that I came to the realization that I am not an actor man, nor am I a genre man, but I was, I finally settled upon, a director man.

         I take great enjoyment from looking at a director’s large body of work and attempting to root out his true “style”. What is there about this director that I can love or hate? What are his strengths and weaknesses? If he uses a familiar cast of actors, does he reuse them for similar roles or spread them across a variety of character types? And most importantly, are his movies good?

         It is with this (largely pointless and massively biased) premise that I shall begin to speak at length on an... irregular basis. Each episode will carry within itself an analysis of an individual director, including an analysis of the style, themes, plotting, writing, shooting, and acting of all his films. And when I say all of his films, I do mean ALL of his films. I will not complain about the movies I don’t watch. I will also look at the director’s comments, look up some background knowledge about their on-set method, and try to give a commentary on any of the director’s more frequent collaborators, ESPECIALLY if they tend to use the same screenwriters.

         To begin, I think we should start with someone from the Oscar nominations, and a personal favorite of mine, David Fincher. First, a little history. Before he got his start in making movies, he made small time ads and music videos. Then he made big time music videos. How big time? Madonna’s “Vogue” big time. He made some other pretty big ones (Aerosmith’s “Janie’s Got a Gun” comes to mind), but nothing quite as awesome as “Vogue”.

         His first feature film was technically Alien 3, but he has since disowned the film, and blames the failure it eventually became on 20th Century Fox for not trusting him to make a good movie. While there is a Director’s Cut, Fincher claims that it is not his work, even though fans of the series and critics actually kinda like it. In other words, we will be skipping this film.

         Next he made his first true success, Se7en, which became a major critical and commercial success, launching his career as a movie director. Written by Andrew Kevin Walker, Se7en was a thriller, with major gore and horror elements, starring Brad Pitt, Morgan Freeman, and (spoiler alert!) Kevin Spacey. It was, in fact, the movie that proved, once and for all, that no matter the crime, Kevin Spacey did it.

         After that came another thriller called The Game. John Brancato and Michael Ferris wrote the screenplay, with the Michael Douglas and Sean Penn starring. Sean Penn didn’t actually appear very much, though. Many believe it to be more of a neo-noir film than a thriller.

         Next in line is probably his most famous work, Fight Club. Once again, Brad Pitt stars, this time with Edward Norton and Helena Bonham Carter. This movie, based on the book by Chuck Palahnuik (screenplay by Jim Uhls) was a meditation on coming of age storytelling, and Fincher describes it as The Graduate meets Rebel Without a Cause. While not originally a hit, the film is now a cult classic, and he is well respected for directing it.

         Next came Panic Room, a return to thriller movies, starring Jodie Foster and Kristen Stewart (far before she had the severe misfortune of being cast as Bella Swan), and written by David Koepp. It was born from Fincher’s desire to do a smaller, more quiet movie after the enormous production that was Fight Club.

         Following in its heels came the thriller Zodiac, starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Robert Downey Jr. playing himself. This time written by James Vanderbilt, Fincher dives into slightly newer territory by never revealing the killer, and indeed only having a few scenes including him. Instead, it was pursued more from the mystery side of things, but was nonetheless filled with heart pounding tension and serious material.

         David Fincher moved to truly unfamiliar territory with his next film, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, written by Eric Roth, who also wrote Forrest Gump. Anyone who has seen both movies will find this fairly obvious. Fincher got his first Oscar Nomination for this one.

         Finally, David Fincher has reach super-stardom with his latest film, The Social Network. Written by Aaron Sorkin, this dramatic story comprises of Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield, and Justin Timberlake of all people. A story of friendship and betrayal, Fincher has been lauded for this movie more than any other, including another Oscar nomination.

         So, while he hasn’t worked with many screenwriters multiple times (though he did have Andrew Kevin Walker do some rewrites for The Game while they worked on Se7en), David Fincher has worked on some very thematically similar works. A running theme is coming of age, especially for grown men, or some other greater realization of “the way the world works”, though this relationship is rather tenuous at best, and at worst could be said to be applied to every movie. It would be better to call it a film series of violent, visceral thrusts into reality. This is most obvious in Se7en, in which Mills is thrust into the knowledge that every man is flawed, and that even he can fall.

         The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is even more applicable to this theme. A character study, we see him aging as war, pain, love, and hardship allow him to grow and realize his place as a man. The coming-of-age tale is one so universal that this sort of story is so fundamentally different from something like The Graduate that the two are practically incomparable.

         Another interesting theme is his treatment of the city and city life. While The Game, Zodiac, and Se7en were clearly inspired from noir films, given their themes of crime, manic twists, and detective-shaped protagonists (though The Game might be stretching it), it is only natural that he further be influenced to create a noir-like city. It is oppressive, unconquerable, and emotionless, and always seems to hate the protagonist. Indeed, the level in which the members of Project Mayhem vandalize their city seems almost a natural response. For that matter, Fight Club seems to most obviously deal with this facet, as we get glimpses of Tyler Durden’s twisted philosophy through his projects. He commands the destruction of a piece of corporate art, and uses it to destroy a meaningless franchise coffee shop. In this, we see the reaction to the oppressive noir city to be one of destruction and hate. This city has taught them to accept things they do not need, and they feel the urge to fight back.

         Panic Room is especially noteworthy in that it has an entire house that feels oppressive and unconquerable. It takes the concept of a noir city and shrinks it and the characters down for the film. The noir aspect is especially played up in the black and white motifs throughout the movie, from the house to the room to the thieves themselves. 

         A frequent note towards all of David Fincher’s films is his exceptionally clever use of film styles. For example, in Se7en he did not remove the silver in the film stock, achieving a darkening, bleaker tone throughout the picture. It helped emphasize and make real the dark, decaying city. Fight Club used a whole host of filming techniques to wildly different effects, such as flashing, use of high contrast, under-exposing the film, and once again leaving in the silver. This belies his background in filmography. While he received no formal training, he has been making movies personally since he was eight (no shit), so it should come as no surprise that he really understands how to shoot a film more than anything.

         While using this film techniques are a sort of trademark of his (seriously cool trademark, by the way), Zodiac stands out as supremely different from the rest. This is because he shot it in a very realistic manner, so that the audience would accept it as real. This is perhaps why the city’s oppressiveness is never really felt the way it is in his other films. While this may not be a detriment to the film itself, it does mean that Zodiac feels as though it doesn’t fit, and foreshadows his switch to less neo-noir films.

         As David Fincher’s career has progressed, I feel that he has grown in his use of style. When he does use his (frankly immense) knowledge of shooting and film, it is always used to great effect, and this has only grown in recent years. While I personally dislike The Social Network, I cannot deny that it is a beautifully shot movie, with some scenes that are downright breathtaking in terms of cinematography. The lighting was especially good, as well as the use of mirrors and perspective shots. It allowed the audience to really feel each character’s experience on such an intimate level.

         As for my opinions on each of the films, I have highly mixed feelings about both The Social Network and Zodiac, but I enjoyed Se7en, The Game, and Panic Room very much, especially for their neo-noir slant (I am big fan of noir). The Curious Case of Benjamin Button would be my favorite, but Fight Club is such a well-made film that I cannot deny it that honor. It is enjoyable, hilarious, dangerous, and wonderful. To date, I count it among my favorite films ever.

         In conclusion, for his attention to shooting and tone, I think that David Fincher could evolve into the next Stanley Kubrick. Indeed, with his new genre-hopping, he could end up defying all expectations for the future. While his The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is no Barry Lyndon, and nor is Fight Club truly better than Dr. Strangelove, I believe that David Fincher is only getting started. If he continues to make films at the rate he is currently maintaining, he will have many new films under his belt in no time at all. And at 48 years old, it is clear that we will be cherishing this director (and his movies) for many years to come.