Directed by Sean DurkinUnited States | 2011
The realization that the film is a portrait of Martha’s subjectivity does not come instantly due to Durkin’s emphasis on long takes, his suppression of extra-diegetic sound, and his refusal to write his way inside his main character’s head space, all of which are general signifiers of objectivity. But what Durkin has achieved is a way of presenting the subjectivity of a person who no longer understands her own ideals, desires, and actions, who indeed is a mere physical shell missing a cohesive soul. Thematically speaking, the film’s post-Manson indictment of the identity-shattering mob mentality of cults couldn’t be clearer, but it’s the depth of detail that Durkin and Olsen infuse into Martha’s character that really allows the parable to breathe.
Directed by Rainer Werner FassbinderWest Germany | 1975
As Margot enters and leaves her apartment to visit the local chemist, for Valium and sex, the prying eyes of her in-laws often watch through a window high up above street level… all these visual and aural cues make the whole thing feel so like Hitchcock that it adds immense potency to the scenes where Fassbinder immediately strips away the excesses and bombards us with the raw practical consequences of this malaise. Much of the film skirts close to spoof but that only makes the quiet scenes of genuine loneliness or violence all the more pointed and distressing. After all, Hitchcock interjected scenes of madness with, um, car chases and fetishised romance. He never just quietly sat the camera down to watch a woman, almost absentmindedly, slice open a wrist before registering, with terror, the full extent of her actions.
Directed by Gavin O'ConnorUnited States | 2011
Part of the movie’s brilliance is the way it gives hints of backstory without resorting to flashbacks or long speeches about specific things that happened to the Conlons earlier on. This is a story about aftershocks, and the screenwriters keenly observe the splintering effect that alcoholism can have on the relationships between fathers and sons and siblings. Paddy is so reviled by his boys that it’s hard to imagine the broken-down old man as being a monster; we get a glimpse of that later, in a scene that’s surprising in both its setup and resolution. By the time Brendan enters round five of the climactic match, we feel both the weight of his reluctance to take down the feral beast Tommy has become and the need to provide for his new family; it’s a devil’s bargain whose outcome is not a cheerful ending, but the beginning of a much tougher journey.
Directed by Ingmar BergmanSweden | 1963
The Silence doesn’t have a narrative form so much as an obscure musical pattern, which at a concise 92 minutes feels like a winding slow-burn towards a pensive climax. Bergman maps out the separate journeys of the three characters in this foreign land of “Tivoli”, a fictional town where the inhabitants speak an inscrutable language and go about their daily activities with mechanical precision. It’s logical to assume that the journey of each character is meant to intersect in some way, at least metaphorically, but Bergman keeps them self-contained, providing no recognizable motif with which to connect them. Instead, they’re arranged in counterpoint to one another in an almost free-associative manner.
Directed by Lukas MoodyssonSweden, Denmark | 2004
[Moodysson’s] attempts to question “reality” on film is hinged entirely on an unqualified presumption of gonzo aesthetics being closer to truth or allowing for more insight than other, perhaps more traditional, means. Fundamentally there’s no reason within A Hole in My Heart to buy into Moodysson’s perceptions and there’s no denying that his film is no more or less fabrication than anything that preceded it. It does successfully highlight issues of perception but largely stumbles into the same potholes as that which it seeks to criticise – to use a rough analogy of road signs, A Hole in My Heart is a little like a protest sign noting a lack of warning for a dangerous bend that’s been placed in front of and obscures the actual sign warning of that bend.
Directed by Terrence MalickUnited States | 2011
Malick’s grand ruse is his inclusion of the planet-forming/cell-division/dinosaur stuff. None of this has any thematic resonance with Jack’s story, unless you count the fact that, yes, all of the people in this film descended from cosmic goo. Some will argue that there must be some greater significance simply because it’s all mashed together with the main story; but I have no problem calling that out as nonsense. The proof lies in Jack’s story, a clichéd horror-behind-the-picket-fences yarn we’ve seen a thousand times before done in at least twelve more effective iterations. Malick again draws attention away from his problems by jumping around in time…
Directed by Terrence MalickUnited States | 2011
From an amorphous balloon of orange light in the center of the screen begins a series of Brakhage-like gyrations of color that culminate in a representation of the creation of the solar system that slowly morphs from abstraction to recognizable forms. Within this are certain blobs that resemble inner body fluids, perhaps an attempt to link the macro processes of the Big Bang to the micro processes of human birth. After a meteor strikes Earth, Malick drops in to observe the primordial stew of liquids and solids on the planet’s surface that eventually produce oceans and landscapes. The images created in this sequence – advised by special effects legend Douglas Trumbull, referenced from NASA, and shot using either 65 mm or the massive IMAX format – are impossibly high-fidelity, giving the whole sequence the uncanny sense of actually floating over this universal phenomenon rather than just witnessing cinematic images of it.
Directed by Carlos SauraSpain | 1976
In a manner even more forward and direct than in Tarkovsky’s Mirror, a film which shares much with Cria Cuervos, Saura lets family history dissolve along with the vagaries of time and space. Though his editing appears to induce linearity, albeit with a somewhat suggestive and uncanny chronology, the sequences in Cria Cuervos – the aforementioned included – often seamlessly blend reality with distortions of it as filtered through the distressed mind of the dark-eyed protagonist. For instance, Chaplin’s offhand entrance into the kitchen belies the fact, learned only minutes later, that she is actually a ghost.
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 Apichatpong WeerasethakulThailand | 2010
Weerasethakul shoots these scenes with dreamlike immediacy and an old-fashioned day-for-night effect that bolsters the deep blues and greens in the color palette. In the princess sequence, the film’s stylization jockeys unexpectedly between the mannered staging, framing and visual effects of a ’60s costume drama and something more termitic, with loose, documentary-like compositions (the close-up of the servant from the princess’s point of view stands out) and a handheld camera that reacts spontaneously to Weerasethakul’s odd catfish sex scenario.
Directed by Todd HaynesUnited States | 1987
The split between his wry framing and his sympathetic view of Carpenter allows for a more rounded reading of the situation: Haynes’ intellectual remove gives him the freedom to extrapolate from Carpenter prototypical advances in a number of his core themes, while his ability to get in close and feel for a woman pulled apart at the seams keeps the film from becoming a condescending, sneering piece of avant-garde deconstruction.
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 Lisa CholodenkoUnited States | 2010
It’s not so much a problem that the film wears its genre on its sleeve as that it wraps it up under the pretense of being a genuine, realistic depiction of an “alternative” family life. Much of it comes down to the screenplay, which is just too traditionally structured and predictable to bring that kind of true-to-life spontaneity that you get from the best indie films. It begins idealistically, develops clichéd conflicts, then resolves them through superficial sentimentality. Essentially, it falls into the trap that so many modern indie films do: it’s a mainstream, big studio work in all but budget, with all of the grit and grime of the best of its kind absorbed and assimilated into a neat and tidy system.
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 Terence DaviesUnited Kingdom | 1988
Davies frequently subverts this, introducing sound but not cutting to the scene connected to it. Images and events frequently compress illogically, allowing Davies to explain them or connect them later on. This seems to mimic the associative nesting of memory, as scenes don’t unfold linearly in time but in the order in which one is associated with another, making the connections all the more suggestive. Davies also saves one of his finest moments for the transition between the film’s two main sections…
Directed by Susanne BierDenmark | 2002
Where love and affection is involved everyone is basically something of a slave, young and old alike, and knowledge or experience can’t really diminish vulnerability. On that note the handling of sexual elements within the film was also wonderfully upfront with a sensuousness generated in the briefly glimpsed moments of passion. It’s a serious indictment of the industry, although not a surprising one, that portrayals of sex that actually mirror reality are so hard to come by.
Directed by Yasujiro OzuJapan | 1956
Ozu almost imperceptibly builds emotional resonance via subtle visual and narrative motifs. These seem to accumulate in meaning as the film wears on, and instead of releasing the built-up tension in bursts, such as the gathering during the mother’s death in Tokyo Story, Ozu diffuses it slowly, like helium leaking out of a blown-up balloon. At one point in the film we know that Masako knows that Shoji has had an affair, and though we keep waiting for a confrontation, Ozu never delivers one. Instead, he focuses his attention on the various perspectives on that affair, including Masako’s mother and Shoji’s co-workers.
Directed by Ingmar BergmanSweden | 1963
The language barrier shapes all discourse in the film. In this world there is an unavoidable silence between the protagonists and all those around them. Words have little power and they are a scarcity throughout. Gesture and props might allow them some function in communicating with the locals but no true connection can be forged, not even as Anna finds some manner of sexual solace with a waiter (Birger Malmsten) she meets nearby. The sex, though fevered and shrouded in erotic shadow, is nonetheless anonymous and ungratifying.
Directed by Akira KurosawaJapan | 1951
There certainly is an impressive tonal note sustained throughout the project, even as the edits sometimes pile on so fast as to reduce the narrative to near tatters. It is surely this quality that has lead some to classify the film as one of Kurosawa’s finest. If you can ignore the narrative lapses and unsure progression of the drama then the atmosphere the film evokes may well carry you through…
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.