Category Archives: Film Theory

Top Ten: THE WIND RISES

thewindrises

The Wind Rises is a haunting moral quandary wrapped up in an exceedingly kind, beautiful film.

It’s a film that is not only not afraid to make the viewer uncomfortable, it actively revels in it. This is a Japanese film that stares directly in the face of the grim moral consequences of Japan’s militarism in the lead up to World War II, and refuses to blink. But it doesn’t condemn. It’s an achingly earnest, empathetic film that finds the human tragedy at the heart of Japan’s march to war.

When this film was released and slowly made its way around festivals (an agonizing year-long rollout leading up to the wide-ish release of the English dub nearly a year after its festival premiere), the conversation about it was heavily focused on whether or not this film “glorifies” Japan’s march to war. I read good arguments in both directions, but when I managed to finally see the film I fell very decisively on the side of “no, it super doesn’t.” Instead, I see this film as one about how good people can be moved to bad ends. It’s a movie about the corruption of ideals.

It is, in short, a movie about Hayao Miyazaki.

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Top Ten: HUGO

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“Actually, it’s a movie about making movies,” is a sentence that you will hear a thousand some odd times if you ever make a serious go of film discussion and criticism.

It’s one of those phrases that’s coded into the core of the language we use to talk about films, and it’s a go-to for any critic who thinks their knowledge of the director’s approach to filmmaking is the golden key to understanding a somewhat difficult to parse film. I’ve said it many a time – perhaps most notably about The Prestige, Christopher Nolan’s masterpiece (though most would apply the phrase to his subsequent film, Inception) – and rarely been correct in its application. It’s a neat analysis, but it seldom reveals thematic depths.

Martin Scorsese’s Hugo is a movie about making movies.

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Top Ten: CHILDREN OF MEN

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In the wake of a major migrant crisis, authoritarian politicians rise to power as regimes are challenged and toppled on a seemingly weekly basis. Fear rules the day as people struggle to get by, all the while the hand of government squeezes tighter and tighter as more and more democratic norms and fundamental human rights are waived in the name of protecting the country from the demonized “other.”

I am not describing the world in 2017. I am describing Alfonso Cuaron’s masterpiece, Children of Men. But I may as well be describing 2017 for as similar as the world depicted in the film seems to be to ours.

This film was released in 2006.

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Top Ten: THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT

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When you’re in film school, you will constantly get the question, “What made you want to make movies?” You rehearse your answer, because you’re going to be asked it all the time, and you want to sound like you’ve thought about it. Often, the truth is that there really isn’t a definable thing. There’s a long spectrum of things that happened over the years, and a slowly dawning realization. But you give an answer anyway.

My answer was always The Blair Witch Project.

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Top Ten: THE WORLD’S END

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The World’s End is my answer to the question “Why not?”

This movie released in America in late August 2013 – little more than a week after I had started film school, proper, and a year into my college career overall. I love all of Edgar Wright’s films, and had been long anticipating this “conclusion” to his and Simon Pegg’s Three Flavours Cornetto trilogy. I was there on day one, of course.

I did not in my wildest dreams expect that this movie would be so critical to my life going forward, but I truly believe that The World’s End changed my life.

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Top Ten

Replicas of Oscar statues on display in Hollywood souvenir store on Hollywood Blvd

Way back in 2011, I had a list of ten movies that I believed were the best of all time. In 2012 that list changed a bit, with the arrival of Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom, but after that, the list remained static for four years. I would think, subconsciously, “oh yeah, those are my top ten,” even as I would rarely ever revisit them and wouldn’t think of them all that often. In my mind, I had done the work of ranking them, and that was that. That is, of course, ridiculous.

2012 through to 2016 were, by any reasonable consideration, the most transformative years of my life. I’ve spilled a lot of ink on the subject of how transformative 2009 through 2012 were (shout out to the Stanton Class of 2012 for making me a way better person through our shared experience in IB, that fiery crucible in which the only true heroes are forged), and I’ve spilled a fair amount more on how incredibly transformative the four following years were. But despite that, I never really sat down to think: how has this changed what I value in movies?

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2015 Movies You Might Not Have Seen (But Should!)

2015 was my last year of film school. It was a very busy year – we posted one set of films, and then developed, shot, and posted an entirely new set of films – but in spite of all that, I managed to see twenty eight new release films. I’ve always felt that, while working in the film industry would be (and will be!) an absolute dream, it would all be for nothing if I didn’t still get to go see movies in a theater on a regular basis. Getting to see a movie at least every other week was an important part of keeping me sane during this very intense year.

Unlike in years past, however, the twenty eight films I saw were almost entirely major wide release films, the bulk of them larger budget blockbusters. I don’t mind this – my tastes, particularly post-film school, have always trended more populist than anything else – but it also means that my top ten are pretty much films you’ve all seen already. For those curious, I ranked all twenty eight films I saw over on my Letterboxd page.

Instead of doing a big ol’ “TOP TEN OF 2015” post like I might have done in years past, I wanted to bring your attention to some films I really liked this year that didn’t do so well at the box office, and probably flew mostly under your radar. They’re films I think are super interesting at their worst, and very effective and surprising at their best. If you missed any of them, I hope you’ll give them a shot –they’re all worth your time.

So let’s get started!

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I Didn’t Like Jurassic World

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There’s been a Word document open on my computer for two weeks now. It’s a 4,000-plus word behemoth of a document that grows every time I tab over to it and read what I was last writing. It’s the sum total of two weeks of thinking about Jurassic World, and trying to parse through everything I didn’t like about the film, everything that I think is hopelessly broken about the film, and everything that I think worked but failed to salvage the film.

4,000 words is excessive. I’ve written 8,000-word reviews before, but those often have some grand point to be made, like “Frozen is structured like a Shakespearean tragedy with musical numbers placed at act breaks which is dramatically efficient and brilliant.” With Jurassic World, I really don’t have a grand point to be made other than “I didn’t like this movie, at all.”

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This Batman vs Superman Trailer Doesn’t Understand Either Of Its Title Characters

It’s been a weird week for geeks. Disney and J.J. Abrams blew our minds with that new Star Wars: The Force Awakens trailer that leaned heavily on original trilogy nostalgia – narration from Luke, a downed Star Destroyer, Darth Vader’s mangled mask, allusions to Leia (holding a lightsaber?), and the reappearance of Han Solo – while also promising a great deal of new stuff and new characters who appear to be very interesting.

I say it blew our minds because the internet has been having a collective fit over that trailer since it first hit the net. It hits all the right notes. It’s a perfect piece of marketing and hype, assuring people that they have not forgotten the characters everybody loves, but nor are they resting on their laurels and relying on them. Normally I hate Abrams’ marketing tacks, and while the Celebration panel overall was underwhelming and filled with traditional Abrams’ obscurity in the name of the mystery box, the trailer I cannot deny is wonderful.

Then Warner Brothers messed up colossally with their bizarre plans to debut a trailer as a stand-alone IMAX experience, and leaked a Batman vs. Superman trailer three days early. After a feeble attempt to cover up the trailer, they eventually caved and released the whole thing.

The better thing to do would have been to scuttle the trailer entirely: this is one of the worst trailers I’ve ever seen.

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Cinematography in 2014

The Oscars are tonight. Let’s talk about my favorite category:

Best Cinematography.

To most people who hear me talk about a film I love for more than a few minutes, this isn’t surprising. Cinematography is one of my favorite aspects of filmmaking: it’s the field I want to enter into upon graduating film school, and it’s always the thing I am most conscious of while watching a film. And when it’s good, you can feel it, even if you can’t articulate it.

This year’s Oscar crop of cinematographers is an interesting one, in that it contains three of my favorite cinematographers, one I immensely admire, and two (collaborating on the same film) whose work I have never seen. It’s a good set of films, and one of the few categories where I don’t feel there were any egregious snubs. But 2014 was a tremendous year for film (and don’t let anybody tell you otherwise), and there are a lot of cinematographers with work in 2014 that deserves commendation. Let’s talk about the nominated gentlemen (they are, regrettably, all men, and I am hard pressed to think of a woman cinematographer other than Amy Vincent), and then about who else had amazing work in 2014. Continue reading