Directed by Bong Joon-hoSouth Korea | 2003
A slow-motion sequence earlier in the film highlights the absurdity of the detectives’ framing of Kwang-ho and the media frenzy that descends upon the town: Kwang-ho forgets himself and shouts of his innocence to his devastated father, leading the cops to chase him down in a field and shut him up as reporters close in like a locust swarm. Bong even finds a hint of mourning in the proceedings, turning the thick boots we saw one detective use for evil when he viciously kicked Kwang-ho used as a haunting visual cue for the same man’s foot amputation over a case of tetanus.
Directed by Jane CampionAustralia | 1989
I previously stated that the film never had much of a stable axis, but Sweetie sends the film careening into the Sun. If Kay’s hardened exterior and cynical logic makes her the superego of the film, Lemon arrives as the uninhibited id, a childish glutton whose wide eyes suggest she’s always asking the world for a present for being good. She breaks into Kay’s house with her junkie and “producer” boyfriend Bob while Kay and Lou are away, immediately causing a fuss when the sister returns. Kay wants her gone, but Lou tries to be nice and allows her to stay, implicitly (and, later, explicitly) excited by the sexual dynamo that just entered his joyless life.
Directed by Roman PolanskiFrance, United Kingdom | 1992
Polanski’s consistent eye for formal daring serves him well through the transitions of the movie. He uses soft lighting and red hues for his first section, all sunlight and candles and cozy fires. Then, the mise-en-scène shifts: Oscar’s spacious apartment is initially inviting and elegant, but when he and Mimi retreat into this den to chase their lust, it comes to resemble a horrid brothel, dank with sex fumes and drying fluids. They cover the windows, casting everything in filthy brown. Every experiment into role-playing, domination and pain seems to suck more light from the place, until the only bright source of illumination is the computer monitor, mocking Oscar for his writer’s block. The grim shift suggests that Oscar starts to blame Mimi for his inability to write anything worth publishing, and every professional setback leads him to torture her further.
Directed by David LynchUnited States | 1976
Even more than the visuals—the typical crutch by which filmmakers often rise and fall when making dream movies—Lynch’s original score and the sound effects that he and Alan Splet concoct for this reality send us hurtling into the mind of Henry Spencer. The perpetual wind and rain blasting Henry’s apartment, gurgling baby sounds, and the Lady in the Radiator’s long rendition of “In Heaven Everything is Fine” make for an 88-minute off-kilter sensation. There’s as much screwy audio texture here as there are strange set pieces to ogle, and it contributes to that feeling of watching the Big Twist Reveal of every good Twilight Zone episode on a loop.
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 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 Guy MaddinCanada | 2007
Maddin, one of cinema’s greatest living mythologists, has created a potent dream space that collects the mood of Manitoba’s cold, dreary capital and refracts it through his singular aesthetic, one that filters autobiographical information through a dense collage of lurid 1940’s Hollywood melodrama, the handmade spectacle of Georges Méliès, the formal experimentation of Stan Brakhage, the cryptic associative strategies of Soviet Montage, and just occasionally, the familiar practices of low-budget documentary filmmaking. His films are funhouses of cinephiliac associations, inviting an active engagement with film history…
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 | 1999
If unchecked consumerist greed fed the collapse of the building then so too does it feed the callous designs of the inhabitants of the morgue. As more details are unveiled, unemployment, abandonment, corruption and so forth, it becomes clear that the memory of the deceased girl is the last thing on most everyone’s mind. Each figure represents an unfortunate failing of human nature in the wake of the tragedy; the reporter’s voyeuristic intent, the civil servant’s back-handed dealings and the profiteers’ wish to capitalise on tragedy. Finally, in a poetic twist, nature intervenes to separate the sincere from the corrupt. The idea of fate and of almost supernatural judgement stand as clear precursors to later films.
Directed by Giorgos LanthimosGreece | 2009
From the awkwardness of Son’s test of his sisters’ virility in a bathtub three-shot, to a beautiful metal sink full of blood and tooth fragments, there are few frames in Dogtooth that couldn’t be ripped out and hung in a gallery. I also loved the early scenes—in retrospect, not so much as they were happening—where we see the characters at strange, cropped angles, acting in a monotone that’s cloying until the story helps us understand why no one in the film is particularly expressive. The camera joins in the dysfunction by showing us unsettling subject matter in ways that tell the brain things aren’t quite right.
Directed by Joel Coen, Ethan CoenUnited States, United Kingdom, France | 2009
Given the film’s thematic complexity, it seems almost trivial to return to the more plebeian forms of criticism, but Roger Deakins’ dreamlike, almost surreal cinematography deserves it. It brilliantly contrasts the comic book-like colors and geometry of suburbia in wide lenses and deep focus with the hazier colors and angles of Larry’s subjectivity and dreams in long lenses and shallow focus. This echoes the theme of Larry being cut off from objective reality by his distorted view of his life.
Directed by Joel CoenUnited States, United Kingdom | 2001
Sometimes it seems the Coens have Coenized their films as an afterthought, the usual attention paid to ennui, the sudden violence, the imperceptible shifts between comedy and grimness calling attention to themselves and creating distances, for better or worse. This film perhaps more than any other seamlessly integrates their wonted stylistics with narrative.
Directed by Joel CoenUnited States | 1990
It’s perhaps an exaggeration but who could resist playing up the crookedness of a world where alcohol was illegal? Prohibition-era America made many of its citizens criminals purely for indulging in some tipple and handed both business and legitimacy to criminal empires. This is the world of Miller’s Crossing where the political and the criminal are, in something of an open secret, one and the same.
Directed by David CronenbergCanada | 1991
A place where too-handsome, too-clean Arabic youths with burnished rows of Hollywood-good teeth cavort and frolic amongst the rich detritus of Western “civilization.” A world of hustlers, gangsters and “fagitos,” closeted or not. A world where typewriters shaped like Mugwump heads secrete hallucinogenic compounds when they like what you’ve written. A world where humanity is (at best) a deceptive shell, hiding the vicious, insect-like nature of apparently-harmless rich folk. A world where, as one of the movie’s epigrams (attributed to half-legendary founder of the Hashshashin, Hassan I Sabbah) puts it, “Nothing is true; everything is permitted”.
Directed by Akira KurosawaJapan | 1961
These popular films of which Yojimbo is the keystone are rich in action and metaphor, and ultimately about filmmaking. Lacking in nobler qualities they tend toward the comic, and filmmaking after all can be an amusing process. The presentation of the world of Yojimbo is crystalline. There’s bad, there’s worse and then there’s our hero. He slices his way through a realm whose stupidity and facetiousness is obvious. This is amusing because the kind of heroes we’re accustomed to worshipping on the screen are noted for their ruth and cleverness and nobility in a sea of mystery and intrigue.
Directed by Akira KurosawaJapan | 1957
The reality of the film itself can be seen as what we (and the characters) experience in the immediate now, but it’s equally the immovable force that gives birth to fantasies about better things, whether they’re in the past or the imagined future. On that theme, The Gambler and The Pilgrim certainly present opposing viewpoints, with The Gambler being the hard-edged cynic that can’t tolerate the fabrications of the other characters… The Pilgrim, instead, chooses to indulge the characters’ fantasies, realizing that, sometimes, they are precisely what people need to survive at all.
Directed by Joel Coen, Ethan CoenUnited States, United Kingdom, France | 2009
One possible interpretation among many is to conceive of A Serious Man as the Coen brothers answer to their critics, who for years have accused their films of nihilism or worse. The Big Lebowski and Barton Fink in particular are largely seen as something like apocalyptic sketches: the former portraying modern man after the idealism of the 60’s has all but disappeared and the latter suggesting that man is utterly corrupt and salvation is unattainable. The Coens have at last crafted a black comedy that both embraces and shuns their origins, while complicating them.
Directed by Stuart GordonCanada | 2007
Unheralded by most critics and by fans of Stuart Gordon’s supernatural horrors, Stuck happens to be the director’s best work in years and one hell of an entertaining flick. The team of Gordon and writer John Strysik grafted their own thriller proclivities onto an already shocking true story. It’s funny and scary and technically accomplished in a way that few films are, and Brandi’s evolution in this film and Suvari’s performance is entirely believable, as is Stephen Rea’s effortlessly sympathetic portrayal.