Directed by Stanley KubrickUnited Kingdom, United States | 1987
…even an artist of Kubrick’s piercing intellect and artistic insight has trouble finding anything new to say about war or any new way to depict it. A better title for the film would’ve been “Straight Jacket”, as it constantly feels like Kubrick is trying to shed the traditional limitations that his subject matter has imposed on him, and FMJ’s best and worst moments are always the result of his success or failure at that endeavor. Kubrick faced this same problem before with Paths of Glory. But while Paths found him at his most dramatically conventional (and, arguably, dramatically potent), FMJ finds him attempting to incorporate the more ambiguous and provocative stylings of the films he cultivated from 2001 onward.
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 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 Lukas MoodyssonSweden, Denmark | 2002
Moodysson’s talent for instantly humanizing his characters is apparent from the get-go. Like the two girls in Åmål or the entire cast in Together, Lilya feels like an utterly genuine, 3-dimensional human being throughout. Many directors can feign naturalism with faux-documentary style film-making and faux-improvised acting, but often it just serves to highlight the artifice behind the production. Moodysson, even though he also uses the hand-held camera and improvisational techniques himself, realizes that the real truth doesn’t come from any quasi-realism, but from the core of the characters as portrayed by the actors.
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 François OzonFrance | 2000
Their relationship is both mordant and passionate, mirroring the relationship Leopold had with his prior female flame in which the two took unabated joy in having sex and unabated grief in their colloquy. Their worst traits quickly bubble to the surface, and by the third act they’re doing almost nothing but intentionally pushing each other’s buttons. They obviously (and restlessly) love each other, but their inability to communicate signals an inevitable breach. Surfacing too are themes of power and exploitation which put to rest any doubt that this is Fassbinder country.
Directed by David CronenbergCanada | 1975
No other director has so thoroughly dedicated himself to giving you the creeps… or gone about it quite the same way. Name another director who can film a hot nurse stripping out of her uniform in such a way as to freak me right the fuck out. No one—not Carpenter, not Miner, not Craven—has Cronenberg’s ability to smear the messy results of outraged biology across modern civilization’s smug, placidly domestic face… and do it all on the cheap.
Directed by Akira KurosawaJapan | 1965
This film also marks the end of a very long, productive phase for Kurosawa—infancy as a film artist through middle-age—and the beginning of the old man, whose grammar would regress to childhood with 1970’s Dodes’kaden before a failed suicide attempt would spur him towards one of his greatest critical achievements, a masterpiece of colossal bitterness, Ran. Of course, Mifune’s lips are really the master’s, and even by 1965 he hadn’t decided whether humanity was worth salvation or not. Here, the answer is yes. By the time of Ran, affirmatively ‘no’.
Directed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Michael FenglerWest Germany | 1970
The film’s climax is precipitated by nothing in particular, except the accumulated existential weight that Kurt has put on. It’s also preceded by a physical exam during which his physician tells Kurt his ailments, including weight gain, may mean he simply smokes a little much. Back at the Raab household, Kurt is having trouble getting the television set to work properly as his wife and her friend are discussing a ski trip. The box simply won’t work, so he is forced to listen to their frivolous gab. When his wife leaves the room, Kurt surreptitiously grabs a large candlestick and proceeds to show us how he runs amok.