Directed by Steven SoderberghUnited States | 2011
In a film where the putrid, lifeless shades of green, brown, and blue expose the clammy textures of hands and faces, it’s only natural that criticisms of misanthropy are raised, and that attempts to sketch a complete portrait of humanity fall short. Then again, Contagion is a horror film that’s more about process than people, and it becomes more effective the less it characterizes and individualizes. Not only does Soderbergh’s overflowing cast undercut the hegemony of the Hollywood star system, it situates people beneath the alien processes of nature. That no character takes center stage here – when Damon begins to, the film lurches awkwardly – is a testament to the collective paranoia at work, the fact that no individual is above the heedless trajectory of the virus.
Directed by Stephen SoderberghUnited States | 2011
The central problem, I think, is that Soderbergh invests so much into being a “cool” director that he forgets how important warm and likable characters are (or at least ones that are interesting beyond their descriptions). People give him crap for making the fluffy and obnoxious Ocean’s movies, but in terms of characterization, I see little qualitative difference between his indie and studio pictures. He could take a page from David Fincher, who manages to create slick worlds inhabited by intelligent and memorable people, instead of unrelatable vessels who act as if they were born when “Action” was called.
Directed by Matt Harlock, Paul ThomasUnited Kingdom | 2009
This is, indeed, part of what made Hicks’ comedy so great. The sense that you were never quite sure if he was in earnest or not. There’s a bit about advertisers that makes its way into American that sums this point. Throughout the bit the comic says perhaps six or seven times that what he’s saying isn’t a joke, that advertising stooges should actually go and kill themselves because they’re contributing nil to the human race. Everytime Bill emphasizes that he isn’t telling a joke it’s like a cue and the audience laughs. This is real anger, folks; I think we can take the man at his word. He was pissed. And he wanted us to be pissed too.
Directed by Chris MarkerFrance | 1992
The flip-side of an essay film is that, by displaying the artist’s intent so fully and clearly, it gives the viewer a unique opportunity to identify less with the film than with the filmmaker. An omnipresent sadness hangs over the film, not only in the radical Marker’s dejection with Communism fighting and conflicted feelings over the official end of the Communist union but in his nagging feelings of guilt of not contacting his friend before his death in ’89. Marker actually structures the film as six letters to Medvedkin, all of which contain hints of apology for not delivering them when the man could read them.
Directed by Martin ScorseseUnited States | 1976
I first watched Taxi Driver in high school when I was overwhelmed by its fury. Only after another three viewings in two years did the sadness become apparent, the clawing depression and loneliness tearing Travis’ flesh. That the film, however hectic and warped it is, ultimately emerges with a singular emotional arc is a testament to the universality of a pain that hurts so bad because it convinces the sufferer of its uniqueness.
Directed by Steven SpielbergUnited States | 2002
The film vacillates throughout between bleak, moody blacks and blues and Spielberg’s characteristically angelic overexposure. Especially as the narrative approaches its climax (Anderton’s murder), and thus at the peak of the protagonist’s fate-altering authority, it becomes progressively more tantalizing to assign the latter with cosmic or holy significance. As Agatha guides Anderton through a packed shopping mall while he’s hotly pursued by the police, tipping him off to every muscle movement that will keep him out of the team’s field of vision, the setting is bathed in a glow of spiritual light, as if Anderton is walking through heaven in his sudden opportunity to “play God.” Spielberg seems to be momentarily entertaining this possibility of divine intervention if only to quickly dismiss it, nodding moments after to Anderton’s – and perhaps humanity’s – consuming desire to know and understand his (its) future.
Directed by Duncan JonesUnited States | 2011
But the most glaring flaw is in its ending, which suggests Jones and Ripley may be the only two people to have actually preferred the tacked-on codas to films like Blade Runner and Brazil. It does not successfully unify the film’s split between the intellectual and emotional; if anything, it is the final ax blow that fully cleaves the wedge. Still, the film does make for an ace thriller, and I forgave it much as I was watching it. Only after the fact does this cataloging of issues seem severe. The film may be a jumble with its multiple planes of perception and supposed reality (and I’m not even getting into the holes of logic and plot), but it’s a jumble that actually doesn’t let itself get out of hand and derail the momentum, a rarity for this kind of film.
Directed by Frank PiersonUnited States | 2000
Like the good/bad issue in art, the entire case was built around exactly how human beings define two words, obscenity and art. Definitions of both are given in the film, but they utterly fail to help us (or anyone) in assigning such labels to Mapplethorpe’s work, relying instead on how people react to it… The same issue has followed pornography through its various trials, perhaps most famously leading to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart stating “I know it when I see it”. But what happens when we don’t know it when we see it, or when different people think they know different things after seeing it?
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 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 Alexander MackendrickUnited States | 1957
Hunsecker might see all, but only because he has eyes everywhere, and for all the power and deadliness wafting off him, J.J. cannot work without people like Falco. Lancaster’s tall frame, accent-neutral voice and sinister delivery make him an imposing figure, but he still finds himself undone by his sister falling in love with a good-natured, supportive man with career prospects on the rise. This formidable killer of reputations and careers, someone who holds sway over whether someone lives or dies in the press, petulantly holds onto his sister because she’s the only person who truly loves him.
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.
Directed by BanksyUnited States, United Kingdom | 2010
There are a lot of great, deep questions posed by Exit Through the Gift Shop, the biggest being, “Is this all a hoax?” Banksy and Mr. Brainwash are real people, but this movie is so perfectly weird in all the right places that one can feel an unseen hand pulling the levers. Guetta is referred to in the past tense a lot, and most of the interview footage we see of him is archival—I don’t know if there’s any from the Mr. Brainwash period; there’s a lot of footage of Guetta being filmed in his gallery and putting up art, which begs the question, “Who is filming Guetta?” Did he hire someone to do this? Did Banksy? If so, does that imply that Banksy had intended to turn the rise and fall of Mr. Brainwash into a movie in the first place?
Directed by Ridley ScottUnited States, United Kingdom | 2010
For most, the comparisons would end there, and I certainly won’t compare the depth, humanity and poignancy, nor the dramatic form or characterizations of Shakespeare to Robin Hood. These relative failings have largely been the focus of the negative reviews leveled at it, frequently concluding that this is nothing but yet another empty-headed epic. Yet I think these criticisms have missed the heart of the film, which lies in its pristine, neo-classical craftsmanship.
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 Rainer Werner FassbinderWest Germany | 1975
Mother Küsters is a character who is frequently puzzled (you can see it in her face), yet constantly striving to widen her range of perception as she bounces like a pinball between colorful, yet exploitative and ideologically narrow characters. Fassbinder’s tendency to draw his characters allegorically actually works to good effect here, all of those characters being abstracted for satirical aims, except, of course, our protagonist who comes across as both a tragic mother figure and, more importantly, a feeling, flesh and blood woman.
Directed by Jan ŠvankmajerCzechoslovakia | 1982
There’s a wealth of ideas running through this 12 minute short film but even if these are of no interest to you Dimensions of Dialogue is simply a sublime showcase of the possibilities of stop-motion animation. From the profiles of human faces in the first segment, each made up of countless, individually turning, objects moving towards a common end to the erotic but destructive amalgamations of clay in the second segment the entire film is awash with skill and artistry that few animators could ever hope to equal.
Directed by Akira KurosawaJapan | 1985
Hidetora’s life is saved due to the misplacement of his short sword, the only tool that would guarantee him an honorable excursion to the afterlife. But he dies metaphorically in that castle with flaming arrows and rifle shot exploding around him, unable to end his own life or to have someone else end it. Hidetora’s forgetfulness is a sign among a multitude of signs that he has been unmanned as a warrior-king. His senility is first apparent when he fails to see the designs of his older sons or guess the motives of the youngest…
Directed by Akira KurosawaJapan | 1946
Setsuko successfully embodies a character who evolves: from a mercurial object of worship in her youth to a fragile married woman and finally to a noble ascetic. Not only does Yukie age credibly over the course of thirteen years, but Setsuko’s physiognomy changes in accompaniment: her outer ferocity gives way to an uncertain sensitivity, but by film’s end there is a strength and moral resolve that glows in her aspect.
Directed by Joseph LoseyFrance, Italy | 1976
The sharp contrasts of the many-hued rooms, alternately bright and muted—as well as the contrast between Klein’s spacious, caprice-filled flat and the copper-green, rat-infested, facade-peeling decay of his double’s cramped apartment—signal an insular world that lacks a wider identity or purpose. France is an occupied country, but you wouldn’t know it from the private industry and nonchalance of Mr. Klein…
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.
Directed by Peter WeirAustralia | 1982
Peter Weir’s adaptation of C.J. Koch’s popular novel is a tempest of politics, rebellion and romantic intrigue, where time and space are tantamount considerations in a work that seeks the universe. Weir again utilizes the photographic talents of Russell Boyd whose work is consistently mesmerizing. Though the film was primarily shot in the Philippines, Boyd’s camera probes the streets and slums, the river lean-tos and graceful estates with awe as if it were Jakarta.
Directed by Tadashi ImaiJapan | 1963
Bushidô zankoku monogatari is straight-forward, no-nonsense, literary storytelling. We have chapters that are meant to parallel and reinforce one another, but not to stratify or obfuscate our thematic understanding. So there is plenty of redundancy here, but that’s really the point: Japan as victim of its own inability to learn, to grow. Its embrace of a ruthless patriarchy goes back centuries, as the film stresses pointedly, despite the kind of superficial changes that people often call progress.