The cinematic equivalent of normcore , MANCHESTER BY THE SEA is an exercise in the mundanity of life. The direction here is simple and precise, with absolutely no flash of grandiose style. People going to film for a visual experience probably won’t find much to like here, since everything is not necessarily what most would call cinematic. (The director of photography here probably just sat around doing nothing 99% of the time). In fact, it felt like it could have been Oscar bait for the first half hour, building on the performances of Casey Affleck and Michelle Williams to garner a golden statue for their work while the film would be forgotten in a year or two.
What threw me off was the humor.
This film is surprisingly hilarious in both its dryness and wittiness. The dryness comes through the cringe felt when any number of characters talk to Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck), an uncle who is forced to take care of his nephew (Lucas Hedges) after his brother Joe (Kyle Chandler) dies a sudden and expected death, despite living with heart problems for several years. Lee is abhorrent at being a father to Lucas for a reason made clear almost immediately: he is reticent and introverted, while he can also be kind of a dick. The reason for that is eventually explained in a full emotional style. However, while the film may revolve around a depressing subject matter, Lee’s prickish nature is the cause of some very well-earned punchlines that sneak up on you, just as the wit of the nephew, a boy named Patrick, earns some nice jabs of laughter that, while brief, provide the film with a heart.
Casey Affleck’s performance here is subdued but powerful; his brief outbursts of emotion are even more effective against the rest of his restrained performance. The emotional bursts, too, are not your typical Oscar ones: screaming out about the cynicism of life and the horrors that [insert character who won the performer an Oscar here] have had to face, but small bursts of outpouring in which he doesn’t even speak but just acts. His surges of anger here feel extraordinarily real and relatable, providing gateways toward empathy that, while brief, provide us with the opportunity to enter his headspace. You never really know Lee, and yet he always feels like an undeniable human being, as do the rest of the cast, including brief turns from Kyle Chandler, Michelle Williams, and Matthew Broderick. Lucas Hedges as Patrick is given some not-quite believable dialogue (“you are fundamentally unsound,” for example, instead of “what the fuck is wrong with you”), but makes it work through his sheer charm as your typical teenager, even as he struggles to maintain a Boston accent.
Powerful without feeling exploitative, amusing while never contradicting the grievous subject matter, MANCHESTER BY THE SEA is a great picture that, while never relying on the incredible imagery that tends to define pure cinema, always manages to surprise and connect.
Black Orpheus, Marcel Camus’ 1959 magnum opus, opens with foreshadowing: Everything is happy: children are dancing, kites are flying, and then that kite flies away. The happiness flies away. It sets the tone so perfectly for the rest of the film; everyone dances and laughs, and eventually that happiness flies away.
Black Orpheus is a retelling of the greek myth of Orpheus set in Rio de Janeiro. Set during carnival, it’s about Orpheus (Breno Mello) falling in love with Eurydice (Marpessa Dawn) while she is on the run from Death. While it’s a simple story, one that has been told time and time again, Rio de Janeiro truly makes this film work.
The most notable thing about Black Orpheus is the life it captures so well. Instead of emphasizing the poverty of these favelas, the film decides to make these people be happy, dance around, and be a tight-knit community during the carnival that is going on. The film almost always has a light drumming going in the background, showing the life that is part of these peoples lives, despite their economic conditions. Whip pans and quick camera movements make the film feel fast and add more to the life. And despite the tragedy present in the story, there’s a sense of humor throughout the film.
This is juxtaposed when Death makes his appearance. The appearance is always interesting as well; Death moves like a dancer, with elegance and grace. There is no sense of Death's gender, either. When we're away from the dancing and life, Death cancels out that light drumming in the background. And, most surprisingly, Black Orpheus continues to be relevant by the police present at the carnival being on death's side. They break up the life of the party, they block people from helping Eurydice escape from death, and they reflect the modern-day views people have about cops. It was certainly something I was not expecting when watching the film, but it was made in 1959, a time when the police were hated just as much as they can be now.
Another astonishingly different thing Black Orpheus does is have the story the film is adapting, the greek myth of Orpheus, be acknowledged in the film. It actually exists and these people are aware that it does. It’s why Mira is so resentful towards Eurydice; people think Orpheus and Eurydice belong together because they’re part of the tale. Orpheus literally says “There was an Orpheus before me. And one may come after I’m gone.” It gives the film a feeling of timelessness, that throughout life there will always be an Orpheus and Eurydice who will love each other and whose tale will end tragically. (By the way, the actual romance between Orpheus and Eurydice is tender and yet always ends up avoiding being cliche; you never even see them kiss.) And yet the film introduces these characters to us before it fits the characters into the adaptational nature of the film so the story feels original.
The film is magnificent visually as well; the already mentioned beautiful Rio gives the film a background that looks like a painting. The colors employed include neon yellows and cool blues for scenes of life, as well as blood reds and pitch blacks for scenes involving death. The visually striking nature adds quite a lot to the juxtaposition of life and death.
The ending of Black Orpheus is a simple one, yet it has a transcendent beauty. Two children watch the sunrise and one asks the other to help the sun rise like Orpheus does, with his beautiful music. He starts to figure it out, the sun rises while a girl watches, and then they all dance. Orpheus says “There was an Orpheus before me. And one may come after I’m gone,” and he has come. This kid is the new Orpheus. He makes the sun rise, and while the sun may eventually set, there will always be an Orpheus to bring it up. It ends on life, a common occurrence in the film.
The version of Black Orpheus I watched had camera flickers, an odd lip-syncing issue, and yet I never cared. It’s a timeless film, one which stays relevant to this day. It’s truly a perfect film, one which I could imagine watching many times again.
*WARNING: SPOILERS FOR A FILM BASED ON A TRUE STORY*
The Birth of a Nation is a film that is in the heat of a lot of controversy right now. If you’re unaware, Nate Parker, the person who directed, wrote, produced, and starred in the film was involved in a 1999 case wherein he and his friend were accused of rape. Parker was acquitted, his friend was found guilty but later acquitted on appeal. In 2012, the person accusing Parker and his friend of rape committed suicide. But completely ignoring that controversy, judging the art separate from the artist, The Birth of a Nation is still a controversial film for me; there’s parts of this film that I find fascinating, with smart imagery and interesting characters. There’s other parts that are boring, unsatisfactory, or just plain pretentious, particularly in the buildup.
The Birth of a Nation is the true story of Nat Turner, an enslaved African-American who lives his slave life by preaching to other slaves the word of the Bible. Often, these Bible passages he has learned to read are ones that giving slaves the impression that they must submit to their masters. However, over time, Nat Turner starts to get fed up, and slowly starts to get more and more insubordinate. Will Nat Turner rise up after living on his knees for so long?
Yeah, he will.
This was a film that had a lot of buzz coming out of Sundance this year, where it shook the crowd in wake of recent police shootings. Hearing about it makes it seem bold; it named itself after D.W. Griffith’s 1915 The Birth of a Nation, a film that is often taught to prospective film students for its innovative use of cuts, but is also heavily criticized for being a very racist movie. The title for the 2016 movie actually fits (more on that later). But the problem here is that the title is the boldest thing in the movie; it’s actually a very standard biopic instead of an innovative film that is not afraid to go against the norm.
The movie’s best moments come in visual form; despite most of the movie dropping expository dialogue, a sign of a lack of creativity, the film also has moments of imagery that manage to stick in the brain; most of these moments are subtle enough to not warrant a pretentious feel, such as a freshly pulled piece of corn bleeding dark red blood. They’re moody, visceral, and warrant discussion. However, some other images -- such as a man being killed in the foreground of a religious tapestry -- feel straight out of a CollegeHumor video, aiming for provocation but landing short and feeling pretentious.
But pretension isn't necessarily the greatest obstacle The Birth of a Nation fails to overcome: the movie has an excruciatingly slow buildup. Not that this is necessarily a bad thing -- A Brighter Summer Day is three and a half hours of buildup and it’s a masterpiece -- but that film’s buildup is interesting. Here it is not all needed. With slavery, we don’t need to see too much to understand a slave’s motivation. However, the change in Turner’s character doesn't feel realistic; he already seems on edge for the majority of the film, and we don’t get an idea of what truly pushes him over, either.
I feel like I may be going too hard on this movie. It’s certainly not all cliche -- the action scenes here are very short and never feel bloated -- and the title of the film, despite seemingly being a shot at the original film, also fits in the context of this film. The film ends with Nat Turner being hanged with the peanut gallery jeering at him. As he dies, we cut to a close-up of a small child watching Nat Turner dying. This idea of cutting to a child reacting to Nat Turner has been a prevalent thing throughout the movie, and it leaves us wondering until here, in which that child watching him die becomes an adult before our eyes. This adult is marching into battle during the Civil War. Nat Turner’s story is “the birth of a nation” because he has inspired the younger generations of slave children to fight for their freedom.
And then the credits tell you what I just inferred: they say that Nat Turner’s remains were flayed, beheaded, quartered, cut into pieces, and that it was all done to prevent Turner leaving a legacy. Right after you told me that he did.
So The Birth of a Nation is a movie that has something powerful to say, says it pretty well, and then undermines it through either:
The Birth of a Nation is stuck in a hole. It nearly gets out, but always trips and falls back down to that hole. The hole is not necessarily the worst hole you could be stuck in -- Buffalo Bill isn’t yelling about lotion at the top of it -- but, I mean, it’s still a hole.
The Light Between Oceans is the kind of prestige picture you expect when you get into the fall season. It’s got two good performances by two prestigious actors and a lovey-dovey nature that can occasionally appeal to the Academy, sometimes even winning with films like Shakespeare in Love.
Actually, Shakespeare in Love is a good comparison because The Light Between Oceans is not a very good film.
The film stars Michael Fassbender as Tom Sherbourne, a World War I vet who gets hired to watch a lighthouse. Along the way he falls in love with a local girl named Isabel Graysmark (Alicia Vikander), whom he marries in 1921. Isabel gets pregnant twice, but miscarries both times. Lucky for them, a baby and a dead man show up in a row boat. They decide to take the baby as their own, but when Tom realizes who the baby’s mother is (Rachel Weisz), we know it’s gonna be hard to keep the baby away from her.
Performances are the thing that draws people to these kind of movies, and the performances are almost always good, as they are here. Vikander in particular pulls off a subtle sadness. Fassbender, as well as Weisz in a supporting role, both keep the movie going through their natural charisma. The director Derek Cianfrance (Blue Valentine, The Place Beyond the Pines) gets good performances out of all his actors as well as having a good, subtle style that works in conjunction with the slow-moving story.
And when I say slow-moving story, I mean slow-moving story. The beginning drags by trying to develop an interesting relationship, which doesn’t quite work. The dialogue doesn’t have much charm; most of the time, it just feels tedious. We get you want the characters to fall in love slowly, but the conversations here don’t develop that relationship well enough. It doesn’t help that the film has a melodramatic aspect to it.
There are montages of Tom and Isabel being in love with each other frequently in The Light Between Oceans, and each one is quite boring; they all tell you similar things (these people are in love) without adding something new. They just serve to increase the running time unnecessarily.
I’m having trouble remembering what else to tell you about The Light Between Oceans because I’ve forgotten almost all of the film. It’s boring melodrama that has been done better multiple times. I saw the film a month ago and barely remember anything about it; in a year, I’ll try to remember it again and will fail to visualize anything except Fassbender and Vikander with their faces tightly against each other, along with a cheesy score playing underneath. So just imagine that and you’ve seen the movie.
The Girl on the Train is a book, and now a film, that has been compared to Gone Girl quite frequently. I wouldn’t necessarily compare the books together because they’re different -- mainly because one is an average page-turner and the other is a smart book that has interesting things to say AND is a page-turner. But comparing the films together is actually an accurate comparison; not in the way The Girl on the Train wants it to be, though.
The Girl on the Train follows Rachel (Emily Blunt), a girl (on a train!) who is depressed, an alcoholic, and divorced because her husband Tom (Justin Theroux) cheats on her with Anna (Rebecca Ferguson), who he is now married to. While she “commutes” into New York City every day(she doesn’t actually have a job, she lost that because of her drinking), she slowly develops an image of a couple she sees as she passes by their house: the perfect couple, the marriage she once had, what she aspires to again. She admires them everyday while passing, but it turns out they’re not perfect and that the wife (Haley Bennett) is cheating on her hubby (Luke Evans). The next day, the wife disappears and now it’s a mystery!
In the book Gone Girl, one of the most interesting aspects is the idea of the “Cool Girl,” the girl that every man wants because:
The movie The Girl on the Train tries to do everything I just mentioned. It tries to be hot (it’s not), tries to be smart (it’s not), it tries to be funny (it’s not funny intentionally), and it loves sex (well, that one’s still true).
What I’m saying is that Gone Girl is the cool girl to The Girl on the Train. It so wants to be like it. It wants to aspire to being an above-average, smart thriller. And it utterly fails.
The Girl on the Train opens with three different scenes of narration from three different characters, every single line of each separate voiceover being boring and unintelligent. The narration is supposed to show us 90% of what we need to know about the characters, which is just a dull thing to do, especially when it’s not done gradually. The small things we don’t know are given in ways that are completely ludicrous; there’s a scene where Anna tells her husband, Tom, that she misses being his mistress, being the other woman, being the girl that will eventually break Rachel’s heart.
In the book, she contemplates this same thought and immediately acknowledges that it’s an absolutely horrendous thing to have thunk and wishes she didn’t feel that way. In the movie, she basically just says (paraphrasing) “oh yeah, I wish I was screwing you on the side again because I enjoyed being the other woman.” WHAT?!?! WITHOUT ANY BUILDUP?? WITHOUT ANY SORT OF REALISM, WITHOUT SOUNDING LIKE A HUMAN BEING??
It’s this kind of writing that shows just how bad this script is. There’s nothing written here that feels realistic. Sometimes, the lines were so dumb I had to stifle a laugh.
The crappy narration and plot holes would probably be enough to make a bad movie, but the ending of the film kills it for me. Just like in the book, it turns out that Tom is the killer, and he’s kind of insane. He’s also slept with all three women. So Anna and Rachel kill him, everyone cheers, etc. and then we go to the police questioning the characters. Anna basically says that all of the girls were completely innocent and did nothing wrong.
Nothing wrong, huh? The alcoholism, the consensual sex (and marriage) with the crazy guy, the stalking that Rachel does to Anna and Tom, all of that and much more is nothing wrong?
Don’t get me wrong, Tom is obviously at fault here. I mean, he killed a girl and tries to kill another. But the fact that the film heavy handedly tells us that these girls did absolutely nothing wrong is not just dumb, it’s insulting. Can we not think for ourselves? Does your audience have a brain? Do you assume that everyone who sees the movie will like it just as much as the book?
Let me think of what I liked: Emily Blunt was good. Ummm… ooh, there’s this cool rain shot that’s reminiscent of this other rain shot earlier in the movie that subtly tells us that the girl is thinking about what happened in that first rain shot.
Yeah, that’s it.
The performances are phoned in to bad from everyone else besides Blunt. Danny Elfman’s score basically tries to carbon copy the electronic, creepy scores that Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross do for David Fincher in Gone Girl, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, and The Social Network. The movie lacks any ostensible aura of fun that the best thrillers have; in fact, it’s a slog to get through. Unlike the best films, the more I think about it, the more mad I am that a movie was made lacking any sort of intelligence, fun, or interest. This is the worst film I’ve seen this year, and I saw Batman v. Superman.
I think I’m alone on this one.
Hell or High Water is one of the highest rated films of the year. A 99% on RottenTomatoes, an “88” on Metacritic, pretty much everyone likes this movie. But not me. As always with this kind of situation, (see my reviews of Room and Love & Friendship) I ask myself if I’m in the wrong. Do I just not get it? Am I too young at the age of 15 to “understand” it? Critics didn’t like Citizen Kane and 2001: A Space Odyssey when they came out. Am I going to be one of them? Will I overlook a masterpiece? In this case, I don’t think so. And while I may be committing some form of heresy, I think this movie has legitimate problems that most are overlooking.
Hell or High Water is about two brothers, Tanner (Ben Foster) and Toby (Chris Pine) who go on a spree of bank robberies. Toby does it to save a family farm from foreclosure, hoping to let his children live a better life. Tanner does it for the hell of it. Meanwhile, they are pursued by Marcus (Jeff Bridges) and Alberto, (Gil Birmingham) two Texas Rangers who are close on their tail.
Hell or High Water certainly has good aspects to it. There’s good performances all around. There are great scenes that are intense and suspenseful, and they manage to capture a feeling of unknowing; you don’t know who’s gonna die. It’s hard to do that, and I especially appreciate it in the superhero age where no one can stay dead or even be close to death. There’s some good banter, particularly between Marcus and Alberto.
But for me, all the good here is overshadowed by one key thing:Toby, and how one-dimensional he is.
The first time we see Toby he is robbing a bank, but I like him from the start. For one, he doesn’t want any unnecessary death, emphasized through David Mackenzie’s close-up direction; while Tanner threatens a lady with a gun to her head, Toby tells him to calm down. And from there, this dude is one of the least cynical people I’ve ever seen. His entire reasoning for doing this is to get his kids and ex-wife into a house that he won’t even get to live in. I would be fine with that if there was something I didn’t like about him, but there’s not a single thing. He robs, but for the right reason. Making someone a robber but for a good reason doesn’t make someone three-dimensional. And while some people like the character who has no unlikable qualities, for me it gives a film no depth, no purpose. The best characters are the ones who are not good and not evil; Toby is good in every sense of the word, and that’s the big problem here.
The other thing about Hell or High Water is that it has a sense of “action movie” to it despite the somewhat original concept. There are moments in the film with soft piano playing in the background that unintentionally made me laugh. The movie has accidental jumpcuts which always took me out of the film.
The direction felt kind of bland; it never truly felt “cinematic,” that feeling of euphoria that you get when you’ve watched watching incredible visually. I was surprised the film was only 102 minutes long because it felt like I was in that theater for two-and-a-half hours.
It’s a shame; this is a good idea which wasn’t executed well. But that’s just me. And I literally mean just me.
I have liked Laika’s last films.
(I saw an opportunity for alliteration and I took it.)
Laika, an animation company, has made the films “Coraline” and “ParaNorman.” (Also “The Boxtrolls” but I haven’t seen that.”) I like the two that I’ve seen, and they both benefit from Laika’s stop-motion style. Plus, and always the most important thing in a film, they tell interesting stories.
Laika’s newest film, “Kubo and the Two Strings,” shares the former. It’s got a good animation style that works in harmony with the story. The problem is the story; it’s cliched and familiar, and done in a way where the film is keeping up with you instead of the reverse.
Kubo and the Two Strings is a Japanese-inspired fable about a mother who flees her evil family to protect her son, Kubo. A couple years later, Kubo is found by the evil family after he stays out after dark and escapes narrowly with his mother’s help. He awakes with a monkey and beetle who were magically made by his mother to help protect him from the evil family that’s still following him, along with a magical instrument that Kubo can use to make paper fly. He must look for three magical items -- an unbreakable sword, helmet, and chestplate -- that will help him defeat his evil family.
Kubo and the Two Strings is absolutely gorgeous to look at. As I’ve already said, the animation is fantastic and, since paper-folding is a thing the character Kubo uses in these fun performances at the beginning of the movie, the look of the movie being paper-like is justified. It’s also got a fantastic variety of color.
The film also has a great cast. Charlize Theron, Matthew McConaughey, Ralph Fiennes, George Takei, and Rooney Mara all lend their voices to the film and they all do good voicework, particularly Rooney Mara who manages to be creepy as hell and continues to be one of the greatest actors of the 21st century.
Kubo’s story has heart and charm, as well as some funny moments. Despite being a take on the “Hero’s Journey” that Joseph Campbell brought attention to, its take has some twists that work. It still manages to stay predictable, though, and the ending wraps everything up by making the lesson of the film quite obvious.
The thing that most irritates me about Kubo, however, is the editing. Everything Travis Knight does as director is good; it’s subtle and smart. The problem is that we just hold on these shots too long. It’s as if the editor wants everyone to be 100% on board with what’s happening in the story, but it should have been snappier. The story isn’t a slow one, and yet the pace was slow simply because of the way the movie was cut in the editing room. There’s also moments where the writing wants to keep everyone up to date and spells things out for us that were told by the camera. For example, there is a scene in which Kubo performs for a village with his magical instrument. The camera moves and moves, and occasionally holds on the sun, which continues to set as Kubo goes on with his performance. It was clear to me that time was important in this scene. Finally, a bell rings and Kubo rushes back to his mother. It is clear that he is on a time limit, most likely from the evil family that we’ve already established. And yet as soon as Kubo gets back, his mother talks about that time limit, why it’s there, and all that subtle direction is thrown out the window. Couldn’t we have inferred instead of spelling everything out?
Despite the problems I have with Kubo and the Two Strings, I would still recommend seeing it simply because I’m happy that in a time when Disney dominates the box office, Laika has made a movie that looks wholly unique and even put twists on a tired plot. It’s hard for wide releases nowadays to not feel like they’re churned out of a machine, and Kubo feels handmade and unique while still being fun. We should try to reward that, even if it’s not something that’s normally rewarded.
So please see Kubo and the Two Strings.
In an interview with Kristen Wiig on "WTF with Marc Maron" where she talks about being in Sausage Party, she says that the guys who made the film don’t overthink what they write; they just think “hey, that’s funny, let’s do it!”
It shows. Sausage Party has some funny stuff but a lot of it is concept humor: “That’s funny, let’s do it!” The problem is that the execution is off.
Sausage Party is about a sausage named Frank who cannot wait to be "chosen" by the gods to live in “heaven.” But when Frank gets told the truth, that being chosen means he’ll be eaten by the humans, he tries to convince everybody else of the truth and they don't want to go along with it.
So the film's a metaphor for organized religions, but it's a spot-on one. Frank tries to convince people of the truth, but they say if it makes them feel better, why shouldn't they believe it? Frank comes back with evidence and tells them all that they're idiots and they don't want to believe it because he's calling them all idiots. I like the metaphor and I like the way they show it.
The problem is that the movie's just not that funny.
To be fair, there were parts that made me laugh, more at the concept than the execution. Their choices of voice actors included:
-Michael Cera as a crippled sausage who gets made fun of a lot by other sausages
-Edward Norton as a Jewish, gay bagel who sounds a lot like Woody Allen
When both these characters came on screen, I laughed. Michael Cera, who gets typecast as the awkward nerdy teenager who gets made fun of gets cast as the awkward sausage who gets made fun of? Edward Norton doing a pretty good Woody Allen impression, while the character is a typical Woody Allen character? Great! And their characters continued to amuse me. All the other supporting characters are mostly forgettable.
The movie also references other films quite a bit. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don't. There's a great "Saving Private Ryan" nod and a mildly funny "T2: Judgement Day" nod. The only other reference I remember is one that made me roll my eyes, in which a piece of grits says "They call me MR. Grits," an obvious and lazy reference to "In the Heat of the Night."
Swearing is a prominent part of Sausage Party and it should be; these foods are going through hell. But when their life is perfect, (they sing an entire musical number!) wouldn’t it make sense that they’re not foul-mouthed food items? They start off the film saying every bad word you can think of. Their language doesn’t get any more putrid. I think it would’ve been more effective if they started swearing when their lives went bad.
The thing about this kind of humor is that it's forgettable and not subtle. My favorite comedies have jokes that you have to pay attention for, stuff you pick up on repeat viewings. I don’t need to watch Sausage Party again. It's a shame; this is a really great concept for a movie with a great metaphor that is easily accessible to most people. But the jokes are obvious and easy. There was a great opportunity for a joke in the film. In Pixar movies, the combination "A113" is hidden somewhere, a recurring Easter egg. (The combination is a reference to a classroom at the California Institute of the Arts, and alumni from that classroom like John Lasseter put it in the films as an inside joke.) The "Sausage Party" team poked fun at it. But instead of coming up with something subtle, something to think about, they made the license plate say "Dixar." I'm sure it was the first thing that came to their minds and they took it; they didn’t overthink it. There’s a Hitler clone in the movie who wants to kill all the “juice.” I’m sure it was something that came to their minds, and they didn’t overthink it. But there was a missed opportunity here, and I wish that the opportunity was truly taken instead of being half-assed and not overthought. Because 99% of the time, you truly need to overthink to make your film great. Sausage Party is fine. But it could’ve been so much better.
I can’t vote in the BBC Poll of the 21st Century’s greatest films because I just don’t deserve to, but I thought it would be fun to make up my own list. While I don’t normally think ratings out of 10 are good ways of putting together a list, I looked through my IMDb to figure out what movies I gave a 10/10 star rating to that came out in the 21st century. Here are all of those films in no particular order:
Since there were 13, I had to narrow it down a bit. I have a deep love for all of these films, and plenty of other 21st century films outside of these 13, so narrowing these down was hard. Ultimately, I took off City of God, Up, and Lost In Translation because they haven’t left as much of a lasting impression on me as the 10 other films.
So my 10 choices for the greatest films of the 21st century so far would be:
And then I had to rank them. Every one of these 10 are nearly perfect, so ranking them is extraordinarily hard. I believe that only #1 is truly solidified. “And so it begins.”
#10 is Tomas Alfredson’s “Let the Right One In,” the best vampire film I’ve ever seen. It completely engaged me on a level I couldn’t describe. The film meanders a bit in the second act, and yet it totally works. It’s subtle and contains a beautiful friendship which develops slowly and yet is always engaging. Writing about it now makes me want to watch it again.
#9 is Yorgos Lanthimos’ “The Lobster,” one of the strangest films I’ve ever seen and yet also one of the ones that has left a huge impression on me. The first watch was hard; there were scenes where I covered my eyes, where my jaw dropped, and yet it was always earned. I love the subtle details of the world that develops, one that is so different from ours and yet still feels familiar. I was lucky enough to watch the film on the big screen for a second time, this time with a big group of film-obsessed friends around me, and it was one of the most satisfying experiences I’ve ever had. Everything about the film was still effective, and yet because of my awareness of what was going to happen, it was so much fun to see all my friends just react to it, because every reaction was my reaction on that first viewing. It was even more darkly funny on the second viewing, because I could just react to the subtle details the actors added to their characters. It’s such an experience to watch this film, and it’s one I want to experience many times over.
#8 is Richard Linklater’s “Boyhood.” Over time, this film has gained a crowd that thinks it’s just a gimmick, that the people who love it only do because it took 12 years to make. They criticize the awkward dialogue even though life is pretty awkward. They criticize the flat, boring cinematography, the look of which is what you would get if you looked outside. AKA, the film looks like real life. They criticize Mason, saying he becomes boring and pretentious as he becomes a teenager, and yet I would say that most teenagers are pretentious and think they know better, myself fully included in that statement. In fact, this film helped me to realize that. They say the movie is lifeless and yet it has more life than 99% of the films released; it feels completely realistic. There’s moments throughout that not only feel relatable, but moments that contain people I know standing in the frame. There’s people that don’t want to watch this film ever again, and yet I needed to watch this film again; the second time, I saw more and more people I knew standing in the frame. I wonder what I’ll notice the fifth time I see it. It’s a masterpiece.
#7 is Paul Thomas Anderson’s “There Will Be Blood.” It’s one of the most common choices for the critic’s lists, and for good reason. Daniel Day-Lewis and Paul Dano give fantastic performances, the score is haunting, the writing is sharp, and it never crosses the unintentionally funny despite how close it can get at parts. (“I drink your milkshake!”) Paul Thomas Anderson is a filmmaker who grew up while making this film. Boogie Nights and Magnolia are both good films, ones in which PTA is having a great time using long takes and every other stylish thing a director can do. But that only gets you so far. In There Will Be Blood, his direction is more subtle and more effective. “I’m finished.”
#6 is Edgar Wright’s “Hot Fuzz.” While some would vote for Wright’s other work, particularly Shaun of the Dead, I think that “Hot Fuzz” is the best of his filmography. It’s got so much subtle comedy along with some of the more obvious jokes. It rewards repeat viewings because you’ll notice more and more jokes as you watch it more. And, more than any other movie, I just crack up at the way the actors portray their characters. Wright gets jokes out of the way people walk offscreen, the way they say “no.” The thing about comedy is that everyone will laugh at different things; but there’s not a single scene in Hot Fuzz where I don’t find amusement. When it wants me to laugh, I laugh. I hope it makes you laugh as hard as it makes me. (For an insight into Wright's style, watch this video.)
#5 is the Coen Brothers’ “Inside Llewyn Davis.” A Serious Man (also great) and Inside Llewyn Davis, both by the Coens, are very similar films. The difference? A Serious Man is about a man who can’t accept that life has a grudge against him. Inside Llewyn Davis is about a man who accepts that life has a grudge against him and continues moving on. While Inside Llewyn Davis is certainly sad, it has a life to it, emphasized through both the music and the Coens’ always great writing. The ending was something I was unsure of at first, but the more I think about it the more I think that it’s genius. Even though I’m not a cat person, I still think that this film is absolutely phenomenal.
#4 is Todd Haynes’ “Carol.” Honestly, I could see myself recording an audio commentary for this masterpiece because there’s so much I have to say about every single scene. It’s got a fantastic ending, a beautiful score by Carter Burwell which represents Therese Belivet’s feelings of love so well. Rooney Mara gives her best performance. The dreamlike cinematography, the subtle attraction towards Carol’s hair and hands established by Todd Haynes’ camera, just… everything about Carol. Everything.
#3 is Wes Anderson’s “Fantastic Mr. Fox.” Despite being a film marketed towards children, it appeals equally to every age imaginable. It’s got everything that’s great about Wes Anderson’s films (a unique style, humor, some memorable characters and the witty and occasionally satirical dialogue) gets rid of everything bad about them, (mainly the lack of heart and substance in his worse films) and Anderson makes a film that is vastly superior to all of his others. It’s a masterpiece, one which I want to say more about. (So I will. Soon.)
#2 is a film that seems to be both underseen and underrated: Bong-Joon Ho’s “Memories of Murder” from 2003. It’s a South Korean film based on a still unsolved streak of rapes and murders. It’s often compared to “Zodiac” from 2007, except it transcends Zodiac, an already great film, in lots of ways. It manages to be dramatic, horrifying, suspenseful, action-packed, funny, and has a final scene which implies something deeply true and yet deeply disturbing about every human being. It’s a masterpiece, one which you should watch if you ever get the chance to.
#1 for me is and most likely always will be The Social Network. I’m certainly biased; it’s the film that made my jaw drop and say, “Wow! So that’s what you can do with a movie!” But I think it’s a combination of everything great about film: perfect direction, writing, acting, cinematography, score, etc. Basically, it’s a film that holds a dear place in my heart while also being a truly fantastic film, and that’s why it’s here.
So there you go. If you haven’t seen any of these films, please do. It was incredibly hard to rank them, and they’re all masterpieces. Other films from the 21st century that came close to being on this list included (in no particular order):
Keep watching movies.
About a month ago, I saw a documentary called “De Palma” about, who would guess, Brian De Palma. Having had never seen a De Palma film, the documentary gave me a good sense of the three things that he’s most often associated with and criticized for:
Since then, I’ve seen my first De Palma film: Blow Out, his 1981 thriller which opens with a scene that has:
I couldn’t believe it. “Well, everyone is right about De Palma,” I thought to myself.
Turns out that Blow Out has a film within a film.
The protagonist, Jack Terry, is working on a low-budget exploitation film -- that opening shot that we were just watching. So that exploitation film is a satirical take on a De Palma film. Is De Palma making fun of himself? Is he making fun of the criticisms that are attached to his films? I’m really not sure. I just think it’s awesome De Palma did that.
The rest of Blow Out is extremely fun. It's your average thriller, except it's slightly heightened by De Palma's style. It's got a good performance by John Travolta, who waves his hands around to emphasize his confusion and, more importantly, the metaphorical tinfoil hat slowly being placed on his head as he continues to unravel a conspiracy. In a film about a sound designer, the sound design is great.
And then the ending comes along and ruins it.
I won't spoil it, but it pisses me off. The rest of the film is so fun to watch and the ending decides to become melodramatic, cheesy, and "touching." Except it's hard to touch me when you add:
Maybe the lights are a metaphor for America? They're American colors... Do I just not get it? Well, even if I don't get it, it's still cheesy as hell...
Blow Out is still a lot of fun. It’s certainly gotten me interested in seeing De Palma's other work. But the least you could have done is let me think at the end instead of waving a giant sign that says "BE SAD." It’s really a shame, because Blow Out is an above average thriller. It’s got an interesting plot which is heightened by De Palma’s idiosyncratic direction. It’s just a shame that he couldn’t let me think for myself at the end like he was letting me do the rest of the film.