Directed by Richard LinklaterUnited States | 1993
There’s something ritualistic about the way Linklater films the driving sequences from a head-on view (the same angle that would be employed as homage in That 70’s Show), as if the passengers are in the aisles of church and the road is their religious rite of passage. Beyond that, Linklater’s use of driving as a structural element in itself charges the film with relentless movement; if the activity in one car begins to grow tiresome (and it never does), cross-cut to another to see what else is going on. In its middle stage the film becomes a riotous collage of different characters, behaviors, and moods set against different moving backdrops.
Directed by Pedro CostaPortugal | 2000
Subtly, Costa is raising a correlation between this mindless form of destruction as political and economic “progress” and the more personal form of self-destructive drug abuse witnessed in the characters, in its own perverse way a route to satisfaction and fulfillment. Both are careless and reprehensible, but in Costa’s sublimely sympathetic vision the addicts seem almost justifiable in comparison to such an abstract political affair that would blindly annihilate an entire community of human beings for the supposed betterment of the greater good. In Vanda’s Room, then, is not as laissez-faire as its cinema vérité trappings might lead it to seem, but rather works as an understated indictment of these wrongheaded government attitudes.
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 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 Lee Kang-ShengTaiwan | 2007
Tsai [Ming-liang] may direct scenes that almost play out like miniature movies themselves, but he always manages to keep the bigger picture in focus, and that’s a quality that can’t be said of Lee in this film, which never quite comes together into a coherent whole. Besides the blurry macrocosm, overall, Lee’s direction can’t help but feel like Tsai-lite in most respects. While there are many stunning shots, for example, Lee doesn’t have Tsai’s impeccable sense of pictorial framing, which is especially noticeable around the edges (always the toughest plane to account for with wide angle lenses). Most of the provocation feels perfunctory instead of inspired by a higher purpose, especially the Chyi plot which never gains any vitality and momentum.
Directed by David O. RussellUnited States | 2010
His turn as Dicky is a ghastly reminder that Bale is one of the finest—if not the finest—actors of my generation, a performer so committed that he dropped a ton of weight and picked up a deliciously charming Boston accent (I wouldn’t be surprised if he actually became a crack addict in order to go full Method). Dicky is a cartoon for much of the movie, and that works in the film’s favor. His big-eyed antics; his jumping out the window of a crack house multiple times; his incessant bragging about the Sugar Ray bout—all of these things denote a fractured, addictive personality that uses just the right amount of exaggeration to show us how obvious his problem is to everyone except his mother and sisters.
Directed by Debra GranikUnited States | 2010
Winter’s Bone capitalizes on the dilapidation of its locales and the rich, allusive history behind them, evoking a mythological antiquity. Indeed, the Jungian/Campbellian Odyssey link nearly writes itself. Each house that Ree visits is guarded by a kind of gatekeeper, always the females, protecting the potential answer to the mysteries within. Each location gets more frightening; the first is rather benign, but the second finds Ree meeting her uncle, Teardrop (an inscrutable John Hawkes who earns his Oscar nom in a magnificently ambiguous role), who violently lashes out when she pleads with him to help her, even though he relents and later becomes her guardian angel.
Directed by Debra GranikUnited States | 2010
To be sure, Winter’s Bone, by virtue of its bleak subject matter, chilly landscape shots and spare bluegrass soundtrack, continues a long line of grim Americana that has been in vogue in American independent quarters for a while now (Frozen River, Snow Angels, etc.). As a result, I approached this film with a smidgen of skepticism, ready to be somewhat irritated by a melodramatically sustained air of despair and grief. But while Granik’s film is indeed relentlessly dark and unforgiving, it manages this in an utterly convincing manner, forging a deep-seated sense of oppression and desperation that is inseparable from both the locale and the troubling scenario.
Directed by Gaspar NoéFrance, Germany, Italy | 2009
Irreversible’s disorienting, sometimes even nauseating style was meant to connote the anger and fear of two vengeance-hungry men. Enter the Void is, out of narrative necessity, more graceful with its camera movements, for it’s the first-person perspective of a man full of ennui and high on hallucinogenics who hovers as a ghost above a deviant, drug-addled and horny Tokyo. Noé has modulated his style from speed-junkie to psychedelic, though much of Irreversible’s visual affectations make the cut, which leads me to a secondary caution: if you’re epileptic this film may well be unwatchable. Blinking, radiating lights and strobe effects occur frequently.
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”.