Directed by Bennett MillerUnited States | 2011
Moneyball raises questions almost effortlessly, but for the sake of telling a story it wanders into pedantry. The hinted-at debate about team payrolls and player salaries never forms a coherent dialectic. Non-baseball fans won’t know, for instance, about the luxury tax imposed on the wealthiest teams (or the fact that those wealthiest tend to generate the most revenue for baseball as a whole) from watching Moneyball. If anything, the narrative choices in the film reinforce the idea that teams like the New York Yankees pilfer talent and buy championships. This is still a hotly debated contention in the baseball world and by no means fact. But all of that’s okay, and here’s why: Moneyball isn’t a documentary. And it’s not about the Oakland A’s and their magical season. That story is told obliquely at best. The focus is on Beane.
Directed by The Vicious BrothersCanada | 2011
This leads to a dizzying foray through the labyrinthine building, a building T.C. hypothesizes as actually living, as it seems to continually change around them. They’re even foiled by a hallway map, its usually reliable ‘you are here’ marker indicating they’re on the ground floor still when everyone concurs that they’ve just traveled up at least four flights of stairs. The gutted hospital doesn’t want them to leave, it seems. The mise-en-scene is so relentless, so inherently dark and disarming that hints of lurking strangeness are hard to ignore. What Grave Encounters accomplishes here is what Session 9 accomplished with more traditional techniques, but like that film Grave Encounters uses shadow, ambient sound and even long passages of odd silences to disorient and unnerve.
Directed by Steven SpielbergUnited States | 2001
Spielberg brings out the humanity of these robots in what is, aesthetically speaking, the film’s most garish and ill-considered setpiece. The Flesh Fair, a hick rodeo-cum-rock festival-cum-Luddite autodafé, is as gaudy and sloppy as the vision of the Lost Boys’ hideout in Hook, a collision of simplistic elements made into a collage of pop cultural items Spielberg clearly does not himself know. But the scene is also one of the film’s most vital, forcing the human backlash to mechas to confront its wildest fear: their true replacement. With David front and center (again surrounded by a halo), the crowd blanches, convinced he is a real child. Hobby earlier dodged the question of reciprocal love on behalf of mechas by responding, “Didn’t God create Adam to love Him?” Here, we clearly see mankind having taken on the role of deities.
Directed by Ji-woon KimSouth Korea | 2010
To that end, I Saw the Devil can’t help but seem like a film full of allusion to other titles. The muted interiors of key locations and the methodology of many of the violent acts recall Saw or Hostel. The slashing of an Achilles tendon mirrors Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance. As the sides of a character’s mouth split as his jaws are pulled apart, it clearly rouses images of Kakihara from Ichi the Killer…It’s not difficult to imagine that Kim, a student of cinema, has seen all these films and it seems he’s keen to top each and every one of them.
Directed by Scandar Copti, Yaron ShaniIsrael | 2009
In spite of the film’s complex structure, the outstanding feature of the production is how down-to-earth and lucid the characters, relationships and action is. Copti and Shani did a smart thing by demarcating the sections by “chapter” title cards, which explicitly signal the shift in perspective focus. The greatest strength of this approach, as with many films of this type, is the richly textured portrayal that it’s able to present. There is no way to simplistically reduce and explicate the Middle Eastern conflict, as factors of ethnicity, religion, culture, and nationality are too densely entangled.
Directed by Mamoru HosodaJapan | 2009 Even the pervasiveness of CGI in modern science fiction films is a (frequently lame) attempt to incorporate that abstract and creative freedom. But what most Hollywood studios haven’t figured out is that the reality in front of a camera’s lens and the reality created out of a nothing on a blank page will inevitably clash. The more they integrate, the more we fall into that nasty Uncanny Valley. I simply couldn’t imagine the finale, which features an enormous hulking shadow monster of the AI battling against Kazuma, Natsuki and Kenji, ever being replicated in CGI-integrated live-action.
Directed by Chan-wook ParkSouth Korea | 2005
Reminiscent of Fritz Lang’s M and its famous ‘kangaroo court’ finale, the various parents involved, accompanied by Geum-ja and the detective who supervised her case, discuss the righteousness of an unofficial capital punishment… The parents let their base urges take hold, and directed by Geum-ja, they quickly agree to participate in the murder of Mr. Baek, each one taking a turn to inflict pain upon him. Though Lady Vengeance is easily the least explicitly violent of the trilogy, its underlying ideas easily make it the most unsettling.
Directed by Xavier DolanCanada | 2010
Dolan’s signature theme in the film is how the superficial becomes a parasitic growth on the meaningful, an obsession that disguises deeper feeling until it’s too late. It would be too easy to lob the same theory at Heartbeats itself, a film so self-consciously concerned with style for its own sake that it neglects great waves of narrative detail and momentum, but it contains too much conviction in its mood shifts and its emotionality to be easily dismissed as “style over substance”, or whatever that platitude has come to mean.
Directed by Michael BliedenUnited States | 2007
What gives Blieden a leg-up on Moore and Spurlock is that the filmmaker’s agenda doesn’t cloud the picture from the first frame; it’s not until later on that we realize there’s even an agenda being set forth. By demystifying pot through example, and by showing how smart and civic-minded its proponents are, we’re left to wonder what the media and cultural demonization are all about. Like the finest Afghan Kush, Super High Me merely plants the seeds of consciousness expansion.
Directed by Fruit Chan, Chan-wook Park, Takashi MiikeHong Kong, South Korea, Japan | 2004
Filled with venomous humour, combining high violence with wildly inappropriate demonstrations of song and dance, Cut is like a playful experiment to occupy time between grander projects. Thematically it bears resemblance to some of Park’s earlier work, particularly Oldboy which, with the character of Woo-jin, also ticks along thanks to the malevolent mind of an unqualified judge.
Directed by Tony ScottUnited States | 2006
“What if there’s more than physics?” asks Carlin when confronted with the seeming impossibility of communicating with the past to change the future. Déjà Vu simplifies science and its cagey reluctance to ruin an experiment even if it could benefit others, but Scott incorporates faith into science in a manner seldom seen in film. It will take a combination of the two to undo great tragedy: the science can explain why images nag at faint memories and seem to explain what’s happening, but it takes faith to risk everything to fully uncover what might be nothing more than a trick of the mind.
Directed by Chan-wook ParkSouth Korea | 2003
Tying structure to theme throughout we are treated to several superb setpieces throughout. Easily the finest example is a battle between Dae-su and a hoard of enemies, shot from a side-on perspective and running uninterrupted for over three minutes. Reminiscent of John Woo’s formal concerns, the sheer complexity and bravura of the sequence doubles as a reminder of the emotional toil involved. However if Woo is out to create heroes, albeit flawed ones, then Park has very different designs. Dae-su’s efforts here are a waste as are almost all of his actions.
Directed by Jae-eun Jeong, Jin-pyo Park, Kyun-dong Yeo, Soon-rye Yim, Chan-wook Park, Kwang-su ParkSouth Korea | 2003
Closing the collection, we have the biggest name of the production: Chan-wook Park. Telling us that what we’re about to see is based on a true story, we are thrown into a black-and-white world depicting a bureaucratic nightmare on a par with Kafka’s ‘The Trial.’ Opening in Nepal, an off-screen voice asks a selection of women if they are Chandra Kumari Gurung. They each say no until one hesitantly acknowledges that this is indeed her name. Having seen the real person, we are sent back to Korea as the camera adopts a first-person perspective charting Chandra’s horrific ordeal at the hands of an uncaring and inefficient bureaucracy.
Directed by Chan-wook ParkSouth Korea | 2002
Though certainly open to critique, it’s easy to cite this as Park’s masterpiece. While it may be less ornate and immediately intriguing than the more popular Oldboy, it is also more rewarding in its various nuances. The violence and some of the other representational elements outlined previously may stagger viewers, but Park’s overall intent and carefully composed structure offer us one of cinema’s finest explorations of violence and its cost. If the cinema of Robert Bresson instilled in audiences the price of tears, then Chan-wook Park makes us fully confront the cost of blood.
Directed by Chan-wook ParkSouth Korea | 2000
What is so remarkable in J.S.A. is that this story of male friendship is not forged in the thick of combat, the romantic notion of so many war films, nor is it specifically destroyed by it, the reserve of that other type of war story. Instead, though they meet their ends through violence, what is pointedly asserted is that the patriotism, base dehumanisation, and otherness espoused by the military prevented anything from blooming from the seeds the men sowed. Their work was for nought while it destroyed them. Even as Major Jean discovers the truth, she recognises it must be obscured and buried. What greater tragedy could one imagine? Like seeing the Berlin Wall come toppling down only to see no one willing to step over the divide.
On that note, some find themselves entirely swayed by the aesthetic edge of the man’s work. It has been remarked that Park is some kind of Asian Quentin Tarantino. There’s an abundance of irony in that classification, not least of all considering where Tarantino finds most of his best ideas. Beyond that there’s a very different undercurrent to Park’s films- a spark of insight that reminds us that one is a philosophy graduate while the other graduated from a video store. His work is often violent, sometimes pushing boundaries that send casual viewers running for the exits, but it is also steeped in a cautious affection both for people and cinema itself. Park is always looking to unveil more, to dig deeper into both his characters and us.
For all of the themes of entitlement, sociopathy, insularity and the contrast between social and professional codes raised in The Social Network, its narrative is fundamentally framed as a creation myth, something openly referenced at the end by Rashida Jones’ recently barred lawyer. But Fincher gets at this idea far sooner, and in both subtler and more grandiose fashion, almost at the beginning.
Directed by David FincherUnited States | 2010
The rapid incisiveness of Sorkin’s screenplay has so immersed us in the excitement of the moment that it’s forced us to forget the fallout of the future. When the scene hits, it hits like an atom bomb. The added unexpectedness of how it comes down, masterfully orchestrated through Fincher’s cross editing, makes it all the more powerful. It also helps that the scene marks the third iteration of Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ main musical theme; a haunting, three note piano piece that reverberates, suspended over atmospheric industrial textures.
Directed by David FincherUnited States | 2010
“You’re not an asshole. You’re just trying so hard to be one,” the benign, almost angelic paralegal and slightly corny expository mouthpiece, and one of the few bum notes here, tells Zuckerberg after the deposition and before leaving him alone in the empty conference room. It’s a line freighted with redemptive balm. But Zuckerberg is still too lost in his own orbit for it to have any brunt. That penultimate image of him sitting alone at his laptop, though, sending a friend request to the one that got away, is the very condition of our online selves: everywhere at once and nowhere at all.
Directed by Louie PsihoyosUnited States | 2009
As propaganda, however, it’s riveting and eye opening, though it will likely provoke thinking viewers to wonder just how much of what’s stated is true, how much is exaggerated, how much is misleading and how much is downright false. One would certainly question, for instance, what right the U.S. would have to demand that the Japanese stop killing dolphins when we kill cows and chickens daily. Using an unfalsifiable argument like the intelligence, consciousness and spirituality of dolphins doesn’t seem enough to declare their massacre immoral.
Directed by Christopher NolanUnited States, United Kingdom | 2008
I can’t recall another film with so much conflict. Every scene. Either it’s resolved then and there, left unresolved, comes back later on or it’s a part of some overall arc of conflict. People figuratively eat one another. The Joker, despite his manifestly creepy circumlocution, further intensifies this notion. Married to the conflict are a number of moral dilemmas, most being obvious set-pieces with some more methodically folded into the narrative. The great dilemma at the heart of the film recalls the roots of Western philosophy: what is the good life? and how to achieve it? There are a lot of answers thrown up like molotov cocktails at the question.
Directed by Olivier AssayasFrance | 2008
…so begins a wonderful tale of inheritance tax, insurance evaluation and French administrative law. It’s hardly surprising then that the strength of the film is not forged in any sort of tight plotting or clever developments. It instead lies in the clever intertwining of ideas to events which highlights the interrelation between people and things and between art and memory. The crux of this is to state the true worth of art, a value not estimable through money or prestige, and how it serves as a social marker and vessel for human concerns.
Directed by Paul GreengrassUnited States, Spain, France, United Kingdom | 2010
One thing that sets Greengrass apart from his fast-cutting, shaky cam contemporaries is his ability to merge the realism of the setting with the heightened, manipulative drama of a classic Hollywood film. Greengrass’ filming methods are indicative of this. He frequently sets up entire scenes, merely sketching the outline of what has to happen, but letting his actors improvise from there. The fact that he’s using real military men as opposed to professional actors (besides Damon, of course) adds to the sense of dramatic realism.