10 Totally Awesome Movies From The 2000s You May Have Missed

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The 2000s created a new freedom for artists as the cost of filmmaking lowered considerably thanks to the lowering costs of digital effects and shooting on digital film. Meanwhile, the film market–having gotten used to the flood of low-budget but high-quality indie fare that became popular in the 90s–was still hungry for original content.

As a result, the 2000s continued with the experimental spirit that the 90s encouraged, this time bolstered by a generation of filmmakers who could affordably represent their visions on a budget.

The result was a decade filled with inventive films that gained both popularity and a widespread appreciation. But even then, there are so many films produced and time moves forward; after a while, films are forgotten or overlooked, even by the most sharp-eyed cinephile. To remedy that, here are ten totally awesome movies from the 2000s you might have missed the first time around.

 

1. Uzumaki (2000)

Uzumaki (2000)

Spirals begin to take over a town, driving its inhabitants mad in the process. This unexpected source of horror begins to manifest itself in the increasing obsessions of the townspeople of spiral patterns, which they begin to see everywhere and in turn begin to draw and construct them on every surface.

But as protagonist Kirie and reporter Tamura begin to observe, there is more going on than just that: students at Kirie’s school begin to sprout shells and a surprisingly slimy boy starts to walk at a snail’s pace, only attending school when it rains.

Uzumaki is an adaptation of a manga of the same name, and the manga is as strange as the film. The film itself is creepy as we watch our protagonist slowly realize that there’s something more sinister at work with the newly found spiral obsession of her town, and the gross mutations and effects it has on the townspeople suggests a mutating psychological infection is taking place. Initially overlooked, Uzumaki is a solid J-horror film with a bizarre premise and equally original source of its horror.

 

2. Timecode (2000)

Timecode (2000)

Over the course of 93 minutes, multiple storylines intersect in a busy film production office in Los Angeles as actresses, producers, and lovers meet, collide, and cross paths with each other, culminating in an earthquake that both shakes apart and unifies their distracted storylines. This sort of busy mise-en-scène is accentuated by the astounding visual dynamic of being captured and displayed on four separate screens for the audience to watch simultaneously.

Timecode is a radical audio-visual experiment from director Mike Figgis (Leaving Las Vegas, Cold Creek Manor), where he arranged for four cameras to film a movie in real-time with each following a separate character.

The effect on the viewer is both disorienting and fascinating: the sound mix lowers and raises to clue the viewer into which screen they should be focusing on at that moment so they don’t miss important plot details, but it also leaves the viewer free to follow a separate story as they occur on another channel. Whether or not the plot adds up to much is besides the point in this singular film, an experiment that has yet to be repeated but for fans of avant-garde cinema techniques shouldn’t be missed.

 

3. George Washington (2000)

George Washington

In a small rural town in North Carolina, a group of adolescent kids while away the summer, just entering adolescence and spending their time in that twilight between childhood and being young adults.

These kids wander around their rural landscape, finding swimming holes, having crushes on each other, and in general doing what kids do during the long, hot months in between years at school. But a tragedy occurs when one of them accidentally dies and the rest of the kids soulfully try to reconfigure their own selves to handle the tragedy, each changing in a significant–and in one case, heroic–way.

Capturing the kind of summer that many adults fondly remember as the last time they are considered kids and when boys and girls can be friends instead of potential romantic partners, George Washington mixes both sentimentality with shocking tragedy and turns the rites of passage that usually surround first kisses and the first taste of independence into something much deeper and darker.

Director David Gordon Green’s first film is a lyrical riff on Terrence Malick’s meditative, pastoral gaze, with many elements (elegantly framed shots of nature and industry, dwarfed human figures against giant landscapes, and of course a young girl serving as the narrator) echoing Days of Heaven. A brilliant debut that announced a great talent, George Washington is both a sentimental tale of childhood and a drama that depicts the turning point away from childish idyll.

 

4. Kontroll (2003)

Kontroll

Being a ticket inspector isn’t exactly a prestigious job: charged with checking the tickets of train passengers as they depart is a position met with frequent scorn from the commuters while these workers are charged with chasing down fare dodgers who frequently get the best of them.

Bulcsú has figured this out working for the Budapest Metro, where he sleeps underground and works with a group of misfits who slog through their thankless jobs. But when someone starts going around killing repeat offenders, Bulcsú becomes a suspect while also trying to figure out who’s going around pushing people onto the tracks.

Kontroll is a weird comedy-action-romance-thriller hybrid that’s colorful, fast-paced, and stylish. By setting the film underground, director Nimrod Antal creates a distinct, somewhat post-apocalyptic world for Kontroll’s loose-cannon oddballs to live and fight and love in. Finding a tricky balance between drama, suspense, action, and comedy, Kontroll keeps the audience invested by giving them something new to latch onto every few scenes while also keeping the pace of a speeding subway car.

 

5. Party Monster (2003)

Party Monster (2003)

If Michael Alig’s story is unfamiliar to you, after watching Party Monster you’ll be more than informed and maybe a little repulsed. A trust fund dilettante who found his niche in the underground party scene of NYC in the 1990’s, Party Monster details the rise and fall of the flamboyant Alig as told to the audience by his one-time mentor and friend James St. James.

After climbing the club scene social ladder to become the most notorious party promoter in the city, Alig also becomes a drug-addled mess that eventually murders and dismembers his drug dealer.

It’s a wild story told in the similarly outrageous biopic Party Monster, with Alig played in an image-shedding performance by Macaulay Culkin. Besides Culkin’s surprisingly dark turn as Alig, Party Monster is also a rare film that actually details the fledgling club scene of 1990s New York City, drug-soaked but also an important gay social scene in its time, and even more rare for being a film (not completely negatively) focusing on a convicted murderer that was released while Alig was still serving his sentence.

8 Reasons Why “Unforgiven” is the Best Western Since 1980

Unforgiven

Westerns, generally speaking, are considered a less popular genre than they once were and too often have less-than-stellar box office returns. Nonetheless, many incredible Westerns have been made in the last 25 or so years. 3:10 to Yuma, Open Range, The Proposition, Bone Tomahawk, Hell or High Water, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, No Country for Old Men, and True Grit are just a few examples of interesting and compelling Westerns from the recent past.

Though the title “Western” can be debated in some of these cases, these are all movies, lauded by many, adored by some, that take some classic Western genre trappings and turn them into something new, different, and exciting. However, none of these Westerns can quite be considered a classic the level of Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven.

Serving as the final Western in Eastwood’s distinguished career, Unforgiven is an elegiac ode to old-school Westerns coupled with a healthy serving of more modern morality. Resisting the urge to increase the shock value through ultraviolence or introduce elements normally outside the genre, Eastwood fashioned a film that should have felt outdated but, instead, rang with relevance. Below are 8 reasons Unforgiven is the best Western since 1980.

 

1. It features arguably the greatest Western star of all time

This is an obvious one. Unforgiven is directed by and starring Clint Eastwood, the star of such iconic Westerns as The Good, The Bad and the Ugly, A Fistful of Dollars, and Pale Rider. Eastwood is known for other roles (such as Dirty Harry), as well, but is the archetypal Western star: quiet, grizzled, brooding, and dangerous. In those older Westerns, Eastwood’s etched-in stoicism served him particularly well, suggesting the menace and melancholy beneath the surface.

He takes that same role in Unforgiven and follows it past where those movies would normally end. Here is the outlaw but he has been domesticated by the love of a good woman (with the same murderous tendencies pushed farther down).

When the movie opens, Eastwood’s William Munny is trying to take care of his animals and his land after that “good woman” has passed away. It is obviously not what he excels at but he is doing his best for his children. There is some humor in watching the quintessential cowboy look foolish as he falls in the mud trying to get his pigs where they need to go.

More than that, though, what Unforgiven does in using Eastwood is foreshadow for the audience the “transformation” that the character will experience when he reverts back to the same gunslinger he used to play in the past. As Munny hears of a bounty he can collect for killing a man, he makes the decision to saddle back up, dust off his boots, and take his rusty gun out for a spin.

When he steps into a saloon at the end with the intent of killing a man, Eastwood’s very presence gives the scene a seminal feel. Years of context step into that room with him. It would have been impossible to achieve that immediate jolt of recognition without an actor of his stature.

 

2. It evokes the spirit of older Westerns

Unlike some other more modern (and great) Westerns like No Country for Old Men and Hell or High Water, Unforgiven doesn’t update for our times, nor necessarily put an interesting spin on the old formula. All it does is advance a common genre story by picking up with our outlaws years later.

Once they decide to “get back in the game,” the movie settles into the rhythms of an old-school Western. Munny teams up with his old partner, Ned Logan (Morgan Freeman), and a frisky upstart who named himself The Schofield Kid, to hunt down two men that carved up the face of a kindly prostitute.

What they are moving toward is a showdown (if not an outright duel) with a sadistic sheriff in the local town of Big Whiskey, played by Gene Hackman. Hackman’s Little Bill Daggett rules with an iron fist–no firearms are allowed in Big Whiskey–and takes particular delight in hurting and embarrassing those who dare to cross him.

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The movie follows this expected trajectory, hurtling our outlaw heroes toward a climactic face-off. It uses gorgeous compositions and Henry Bumstead’s constructed sets to echo an older, more quaint style. As well, Eastwood’s directorial approach, though effective, has always been more straightforward that risk-taking. Here, that approach serves the material well, establishing a languid pace emblematic of the classical Western style. Unforgiven succeeds for its ability to pay tribute to its roots.

 

3. Features four heavyweights of acting

Clint Eastwood, Morgan Freeman, Richard Harris, and Gene Hackman are arguably four of the greatest actors to ever grace the silver screen. Though Eastwood’s roles have not always resulted in acting Oscar nominations, his gritty style, which then evolved into a cranky aesthetic, will be appreciated for years. Here, his ability to channel both of those versions of himself is perfect.

Morgan Freeman is one of the most beloved actors still working today, having been cherished for so long it seems he can do no wrong as a person or an actor.

Here, he is asked to use that charm and goodwill as a man who cannot quite capture the ferocity he once had. The love he has for Eastwood’s character is well communicated through his eyes and his face. No other actor can conjure up a twinkle in his eye like Freeman. It served the film well, as the audience misses him something fierce after his lamentable death.

Richard Harris, though slightly less familiar to modern audiences (though he did play Dumbledore in the first two cinematic installments of Harry Potter), is a classically trained Irish actor with gravitas to spare. His role here, though much smaller than the other three actors’ roles, allows him to create a lot with very little.

In one particular scene, Harris is asked to play ten different emotions across his face as Hackman’s character is badmouthing him. It’s a tricky but sharp bit of acting, especially under the make-up that portrays the violent beating he took earlier. Harris’ turn here ups the realism.

Hackman, for his part, has won two Oscars, including Best Supporting Actor for this film. His casual cruelty is striking and his intensity unparalleled. Look no further than the scene where he administers the barbaric beating to Harris’ English Bob. Before he begins to physically assault him, viewers can see the delight creeping into his face as he realizes that he is going to get to execute his brand of justice.

Then, as he begins to beat him up, he stays in total control, his face a masking his emotions while his hands “keep the peace.” There is often a tendency to overplay such moments to call attention to the fiery malice of a character. Hackman realizes that it is much more discomfiting for an audience to feel the simmering heat while imagining what the full-on rage would look like.

 

4. One of only four Westerns to be nominated for Best Picture

Though four Westerns are purported to have won Best Picture at the Academy Awards, none have so truly stuck to the conventions of the genre like Unforgiven. The other four, great movies in their own right (Cimarron, Dances with Wolves, and No Country for Old Men) all take more liberties with the genre. And while Unforgiven does present some slight variations on an old story, it mostly adheres to Western canon.

Though winning awards is most definitely not the only indication of a movie’s greatness (as evidenced by the many fantastic Westerns shut out of awards over the years), it does demonstrate critical appreciation. Many saw Unforgiven as the most sublime Western ever. Using the same formula but imbuing it with a distinct sorrowful nostalgia, Eastwood and crew managed to transcend the limitations (or perceived limitations) of the genre.

Its Best Picture award helped to solidify its status as a classic. Instead of watching our cowboy hero walk away from a final showdown unscathed, with his head held high and the esteem of the onlookers even higher, our cowboy hero limps away, aware that the life he has led is not one to be celebrated, but one that will haunt him until he is laid in his grave. It resonates more deeply.

The 8 Best Isabelle Adjani Movie Performances

Possession

Upon her transition from roles in La comédie française to silver screen performances, French actress Isabelle Adjani quickly established herself as the melancholic darling of European art house cinema of the 1970s and 1980s, before crossing into the territory of historical epics in the years to follow.

In what is best described as typecasting done astoundingly right, her pale features, intense gaze and overall expressionistic visage earned her a key place in films of a decidedly dark, bleak tone; portraying disturbed heroines and gothic ingénues. However, at times she has defied the stereotype imposed upon her to bring dimension to characters of many genres.

To this date Adjani is the only actress to win five César awards for Best Actress. Here is a selection of the top films that showcase the acting force of Isabelle Adjani, ranked from worst to best, or more accurately ‘least-best’ to ‘very best’.

 

8. The Tenant

the Tenant

The Tenant is the third film in what would come to be known as Roman Polanski’s “Apartment Trilogy”. This psychological thriller film stars director Polanski himself as Trelkovsky, a Polish man inhabiting an Parisian apartment—the previous tenant of which having committed suicide under mysterious circumstances—where he finds himself subjected to increasingly disturbing occurrences and the relentless suspicion from his hostile neighbours, at one point suspecting they aim to kill him.

While clearly a supporting role for Adjani as Stella, a friend and casual romantic acquaintance of Trelkovsky’s, it is the against-type role of an unassuming, simple character that earns Isabelle Adjani’s performance in Roman Polanski’s The Tenant a spot amongst her top roles.

Much like the tone of the film, Adjani brings to her character an air of innocence and naiveté whilst seemingly ‘absent’, as if preoccupied with darker notions. The ambiguity of which is amplified by the increasingly paranoid viewpoint of protagonist Trelkovsky.

 

7. Nosferatu the Vampyre

Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979)

One of Adjani’s first departures into the horror genre, Nosferatu the Vampyre is Werner Herzog’s 1979 art house remake of F.W. Murnau’s 1922 expressionist classic. Several notable differences are the film’s closer adherence to the source material with regards to the names of the characters, coupled with the departure from the novel’s romantic origins with the inclusion of a very bleak, ominous conclusion.

Isabelle Adjani plays the role of Lucy Harker, one of her more ingénue roles as the gothic object of Count Dracula’s desires; touched by darkness and prone to thousand yard stares and profound lamentations that even the greatest of thespians would have trouble making sound natural, such as:

“Stars fade and reel in confusion. Time passes in blindness. Rivers flow without knowing their course. Only death is cruelly sure”.

Much like the case of The Tenant, Nosferatu the Vampyre is an example of a truly tremendous film ranked lower amongst this top eight, as Adjani’s performance isn’t truly at the forefront. It’s interesting to see to what extent her performance pays homage to the silent film origins of the Nosferatu story.

Many of her interactions with Count Dracula showcase a type of mute, expressive terror not commonly seen in post-silent-era cinema. One cannot help but imagine that had Isabelle Adjani’s filmmaking career taken place during the silent film era, she would have undoubtedly brought the film-going public to their knees.

 

6. Subway

Subway—an early film by the crowned prince of the cinema du look movement Luc Besson, and referred to affectionately by this author as Léon: The Percussionist—is a 1985 French film centering around a man, Fred, played by Christopher Lambert, hiding out in the subterranean world of the Paris Metro system from the gangsters from whom he has stolen. Adjani portrays the wife of the powerful crime figure whom Fred has wronged. Weary of her domesticated existence, a romance develops between the two.

An atmospheric departure from the typically sullen productions Adjani had by this point grown accustomed to, Subway’s very polished, bombastic, car-chases-and-guitar-solos aesthetic was foreign ground. Luckily the “woman in peril” aspect of the “mob wife bored of her sheltered life and seeking new thrills” cliché played well enough to Adjani’s strengths to make her a strong supporting character with a depth uncommon to similar archetypes.

At one particularly iconic scene where Adjani’s character, Héléna, breaks the facade of submissive mob wife by frankly informing the woman with whom she’s dining that she couldn’t care less about her boring ramblings.

She is ordered to leave the table, but doesn’t go down without a fight, famously proclaiming “Monsieur le préfet, votre dîner est nul, votre baraque est nulle, et je vous emmerde tous.” Which stacks up remarkably well next to her Nosferatu soliloquies; roughly translating to, “Mr. VIP, your dinner is rubbish. Your house is rubbish. f all of you”.

 

5. La journée de la jupe

La journée de la jupe

Never released officially in English, but popularly referred to as Skirt Day, La journée de la jupe is a television film about a middle school literature teacher who—upon discovering one of her students has brought a handgun to class—snaps under the constant abuse from her unruly students and takes the class hostage; a standoff ensues as questions of culture, sism and religion are evoked.

Although somewhat restrictive in terms of the very fixed set—which brings an almost theatrical spirit to the film—and at times excessively televisual in its melodramatic tendencies, La journée de la jupe may well also be Isabelle Adjani’s most personal film.

Adjani herself is the daughter of a German mother and a Kabyle father from Algeria, and this connection serves the film’s motifs of cultural diversity well. La journée de la jupe is Adjani’s most recent work to earn her the César, and a rare but well-executed foray into her playing a more authoritative role.

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All 6 Alejandro González Iñarritu Movies Ranked From Worst To Best

Birdman

In the contemporary pantheon of master film directors, the name of Alejandro González Iñárritu has gained a lot of force in recent years. Born on August 15, 1963 in Mexico City, he is one of today’s most reputable directors in both the commercial and the art house scenes since the beginning of his career.

After traveling to Europe and Africa while working on a cargo ship when he was 19 years old, Iñárritu majored in communications and started working as a radio host for WFM, a rock radio station which he later directed. In the ‘90s, he founded Z Films, and studied theatre directing with polish director Ludwik Margules. His first short film was titled “Behind the Money”, and it featured prominent Panamanian singer-songwriter and actor Miguel Bosé.

He debuted in 2000 with “Amores Perros”, a challenging and gritty film where various tragic lives are intertwined by the mysterious forces of fortuitous encounters. This film was followed by 2003’s “21 Grams” and 2006’s “Babel”, which constitute a trilogy of films written by Guillermo Arriaga and photographed by Rodrigo Prieto known as the ‘Death Trilogy’, which examines human relationships, pain, and chance.

In 2010, he directed “Biutiful”, starring by Javier Bardem and with Prieto once more as DP, which received a lukewarm response from both critics and spectators. His greatest commercial and artistic achievements would come in the following years with his next two films: 2014’s “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)” and 2015’s “The Revenant”, two films that also represent the some of the most important international achievements for Mexican filmmakers.

Iñárritu became the first Mexican to win an Oscar for Best Picture, and Emmanuel Lubezki, director of photography on both films, was the first to win the Oscar for Best Cinematography twice in a row.

His films are defined by their realistic approach, which is often times gut-wrenching and extremely raw. Most of his characters are ordinary people living seemingly ordinary and unassuming lives;  they are always troubled and in the face of tragedy, they try to atone for past mistakes and understand the world that won’t cease to hurt them.

Of course, his films aren’t just festivals of depression, for feelings like hope, love, happiness, and spiritual desire are also common in his opus. Interconnectedness also plays a huge role in his films, for no one lives in a vacuum, and every decision we make has unthinkable consequences in the lives of the people around us and in the lives of total strangers alike.

 

6. 21 Grams (2003)

21 grams movie

The second installment of the trilogy of films written by Guillermo Arriaga puts us in the eye of the hurricane, in the lives of three families whose fates are linked by a thread of tragedy and death.

Sean Penn plays a man dying from a heart disease, who hopelessly waits for a donor, accompanied by his wife, played by Charlotte Gainsbourg; Benicio Del Toro plays a born-again ex-con that has been in and out of jail since he was 17, who is struggling to be a good father and a good husband; and Naomi Watts plays a middle-class housewife living a comfortable life with her husband and her two little girls. Such are the characters that comprise this coral tale of love and loss, grief and hope.

The unconventional approach toward editing make this a fairly interesting and quasi-cubist film, an aesthetically complex experience that is carefully constructed. Nevertheless, the technical achievements preclude the proper development of the characters and their stories, jumping from one moment to another up to the point where it’s sometimes difficult to feel any empathy or understanding towards their tribulations.

 

5. Babel (2006)

Babel (2006)

With “Babel”, Iñárritu gave a glorious closure to his Death Trilogy. This time, Arriaga’s script puts us in an international setting, with stories developing in countries on three different continents –Japan, Morocco and México – with four different plot lines intertwining in unexpected ways.

This time the protagonists of the film are as follows: in Morocco, the two sons of a sheep herder and an American couple on vacation; in Mexico, the children of the American couple and their Mexican caretaker; and in Japan, a deaf schoolgirl grieving the suicide of her mother.

The most important theme in this film is already patent in the title, and in its communication; the characters struggle to open themselves to others, to understand what other wants to tell them, to make their needs clear, but also to find new ways to expose themselves, to get an understanding of the world around them, and to talk about their tragedies.

 

4. Biutiful (2010)

Biutiful

Javier Bardem stars in “Biutiful”, a film set in Barcelona that follows Uxbal, a man who uses his ability to talk with the spirits of the dead in order to help them transcend (although this character trait is only mildly explored). He lives in the underbelly of the city and is involved with workers from Asia and Africa, trying to help them to get along in the dangerous and unstable environment in which they are forced to live due to their status as illegal immigrants.

The experimental approach toward editing and storytelling that defined the previous works of the director is absent in this film; instead we have a conventional narrative structure that allows the viewer to develop a strong emotional understanding of the events of the film and of its protagonist. Uxbal is a sick man on the verge of death, so his actions are always directed towards the greater good; he wants to do everything he can for others before his time runs out.

This film is a deeply emotional experience, putting us in the place of a man who has to face the imminence of his death and his attempts to leave in order his affairs on this earth. Bardem provided one of the best things in the film with his representation of a desolated and pained man, managing to give moments of great despair and doubt.

The soundtrack, composed by Gustavo Santaolalla, pairs perfectly with the images shot by Rodrigo Prieto, yet the overall execution of the film results often in dull and uninspired scenes, where it’s difficult to maintain interest and attention in the development of the plot and the world that surrounds Uxbal.

 

3. Amores Perros (2000)

Amores Perros

“Amores Perros” is the first feature-length film directed by Iñárritu, and it is considered today as one of the most important films in Latin America’s cinematographic history, and also a keystone that defined the wave of Mexican films to come after it. It was written by Guillermo Arriaga, photographed by Rodrigo Prieto, and it features the first leading role for Gael García Bernal, who jumped to international fame after starring in Cuarón’s “Y Tu Mamá También” in the following year.

The film is set in Mexico City and it follows three different stories tied together by a violent car crash. Octavio is a poor young man trying to make easy money through underground dog fights so he and his sister-in-law can go away to start a new life; Valeria is a supermodel who is enjoying a newfound bliss until she is badly injured in the car crash; and El Chivo is mysterious vagrant and hitman who takes care of homeless dogs.

Aesthetically, “Amores Perros” is painfully realistic and raw, offering the spectator little time to rest between the conflicts of the characters, and the several stories that develop throughout the film are carefully sewn together in the complex and cleverly crafted narrative set by the unconventional editing.

It has been said that “Amores Perros” is the “Mexican Pulp Fiction”, but such statement oversimplifies a film that offers an insight into the several economical strata that coexist in Mexico City – from the lumpenproletariat individuals to the upper-class families – while also exploring emotions inherent to the human experience – love, hate, desire, hope, guilt, morality, and death. “Amores Perros” is a profoundly human film, albeit dark, melancholic, and painful.

 

2. The Revenant (2015)

Leonardo DiCaprio – The Revenant

The commercial success and critical acclaim received with “Birdman” was followed the next year with the even more successful film, “The Revenant”. Starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hardy, it tells the revenge story of Hugh Glass, an 1820’s expeditioner who is left for dead by his hunting team after he is attacked by a bear.

Realism has always been a staple of Iñarritu’s cinema, and “The Revenant” is no different. ‘El Chivo’ Lubezki shot the film on an ARRI Alexa 65 using only natural light, resulting in one of the most visually beautiful and stunning movies of recent film history, portraying a wild and untamed world where the elements play against man’s interests and desires.

DiCaprio’s performance is memorable – so much in fact that he received the only Oscar in his career so far because of it – depicting a man who is faced with his past while he struggles to stay alive and to find ways to survive in the middle of the indifferent nature. The entire cast of the film performs admirably, showing what can be achieved under good direction.

The film isn’t completely flawless, though; its runtime is more than two and a half hours, which becomes challenging as the storytelling quality wavers in the middle, and although the Tarkovskyian dream sequences are visually stunning – adding to the overall beauty of the film – they might come across as unnecessary and pretentious.

 

1. Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (2014)

Emma Stone - Birdman

Under the flaming and Kandarian name of “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)”, we find one of the greatest films in the recent history of international cinema.

Amongst a series of nodes and homages to several artists and creators, we are told the story of Riggan, a former film actor made famous for his role as a superhero named Birdman. Years after his young successes, he sets out to redeem himself through a theatre adaptation of Raymond Carver’s short story “What Do We Talk About When We Talk About Love?”.

In this visually stunning odyssey – shot to look like it was made in one single take – Riggan is faced with an identity crisis; he is defined by his past successes, which now lack importance to him, and he wants to reinvent himself and  find a new definition for his own self. His existential crisis is represented as Birdman, Riggan’s former persona, who appears constantly to question him and to seduce him with promises of money and fame if he drops his theatre enterprise.

“Birdman” is one of the most ambitious films by Iñárritu, and he managed to excel in every aspect. The cast is filled with names like Edward Norton, Michael Keaton and Naomi Watts, and they all perform flawlessly; the cinematography is a masterclass in lighting, framing, and composing that is so good and flawless that director of photography Emmanuel Lubezki was awarded with an Oscar.

The score composed by Antonio Sánchez is drum-based jazz that underlines the events of the film in a masterful way. And the script, co-written by Iñárritu, is deep, compelling, and entertaining, offering a lot of material to dissect and ponder in later viewings. The film is intellectually ambitious as well, embodying the debate of art versus entertainment in Riggan’s tortuous path.

Author Bio: Gustavo Toledo was born in Mexico City and he lives there. He is a graphic design student and a freelance writer. After a tragic accident in his childhood that left him homebound for several months he discovered the magic of cinema and now he is passionate about it. Since then all he ever dreams about is making movies.

10 Great Movies From The 1990s No One Talks About

Forget the popcorn. These two words (and the article between them) pretty much sum up the list which you are about to read, considering that most of the entries are not the crowd pleasers and they demand your undivided attention.

Some films are less obscure than the others and half of them will make all the Nipponophiles out there very happy. Each year of the titular decade is represented by exactly one title.

 

1. Ra: Path of the Sun God (Lesley Keen, 1990) / UK

Ra Path of the Sun God

“All acts spring from the will of Ra. He sees all things. All thoughts are in the heart of Ra.”

Good and evil Egyptian deities are brought to life as neon-lit specters in the first and, unfortunately, only feature-length offering from the British auteur Lesley Keen who made a stunning short based on the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice in 1984. She does the writing, directing and animating, supported by a small crew (of ten), including a professional Egyptologist, Dr Geraldine Pinch, as a consultant.

Slightly reminiscent of certain works by Ishu Patel, her stunning imagery rests upon the fresco and papyrus paintings of ancient Egypt with all of their distinctive traits. However, she allows herself the freedom to modernize them, so she bathes both characters and objects in glowing light with the help of a specially designed rostrum camera operated by Mike Campbell.

This way, Keen achieves the looks of an oft-psychedelic and occasionally abstract phantasmagoria of hypnotic transitions and transformations occurring in the blink of an eye. Set against the black background and accompanied by the ethereal score and soothing narration of Tamara Kennedy (and later, Michael Mackenzie), her luminous line-work appears as embedded with mystic and magic qualities.

Unfairly forgotten today, this astonishing fantasy is also one of the most unique animated films – classic or otherwise. A passion project four years in the making, it is a reflection of its creator’s enviable skill and intelligence, expansive vision and fertile imagination, as well as a pure, dreamy audio-visual poem of spiritual, unearthly beauty.

 

2. Father, Santa Claus Has Died (Yevgeny Yufit, 1991) / Soviet Union

Loosely based on Aleksey Konstantinovich Tolstoy’s gothic novella “The Family of Vourdalak (originally, La Famille du Vourdalak. Fragment inedit des Memoires d’un inconnu)”, Yevgeny Yufit’s esoteric, uncompromising feature debut is a great, yet not an easy way to get introduced to the art of necrorealism.

Written by the director’s frequent collaborator Vladimir Maslov, “Father, Santa Claus Has Died (Papa, umer Ded Moroz)” opens with a shot of a wire noose in a flooded underground tunnel and immediately establishes the suffocating atmosphere of death and decay. Exploring existential dread, it could be labeled as a grim, absurd, experimental drama/horror/mystery/pseudo-SF or a demented social satire with Kafkaesque overtones.

The film tells (or rather, obscures) the story of an unnamed biologist (Anatoliy Egorov) who is supposed to write a thesis on a shrew mouse, but ends up in his beastly cousins’ village. Once there, he becomes involved in a series of bizarre happenings involving his creepy family and a sinister bunch of elderly men in suits.

Yufit’s stark B&W cinematography perfectly captures the dreariness of the arcane proceedings and unsettling circumstances surrounding the disoriented protagonist. Even the most mundane activities are depicted as strange, not to mention utterly depressing, with as much as a pinch of pitch-black humor. The absence of music, languorous pace and long, frequently static takes intensify the dismal mood with the power to turn the most cheerful person into a suicidal wreck.

As things go from baffling bad to mind-boggling worse for our hero, the viewers are left scratching their heads and having their patience severely tested, despite the time frame of less than 80 minutes. And it is not only Santa Claus who is dead as a doornail here, but the Easter Bunny, Sandman and Tooth Fairy as well.

 

3. Franz Kafka (Piotr Dumała, 1992) / Poland

Franz Kafka is resurrected to a dreary life in Piotr Dumała’s award-winning, dialogue-free short film – a little, yet timeless masterpiece of “destructive”, plaster-etching technique of animation. Based on the prominent literate’s own diaries, it combines biopic elements with references to his opus and nightmarish sequences to a great effect.

Setting of with Kafka’s chiaroscuro portrait of fading glimmer in his eyes, it takes a sneak peek into his mind, while depicting Prague of the late 19th and early 20th centuries as a claustrophobic prison. Imbued with funereal stillness, absurd lyricism and surrealistic predicaments, it reflects some of the themes explored by Kafka himself, such as isolation, alienation and existential anxiety.

Complemented by the melancholic soundtrack, Dumała’s unapologetically murky, ghostly images – more black than white – move with elegance, building a brooding, contemplative atmosphere and generating an inscrutable, fragmented narrative of eccentricities and never-ending metamorphoses. When unidentified agents appear at K’s door, he transforms into a dog.

It is not hard to deduce this is not your average “cartoon” and is certainly not recommended for young children or the easily offended for that matter, given that it features a scene which embodies naughty, incestuous thoughts and a shot of Kafka lying in bed with his p erected.

Best viewed in complete darkness, “Franz Kafka” ages like a fine wine and gets better with each subsequent rewatch.

 

4. Horror Story (Jaroslav Brabec, 1993) / Czechoslovakia

Inspired by the Czech artist and philosopher Josef Váchal’s novel of the same name, “Horror Story (Krvavý Román, literally translated as Bloody Novel)” marks Jaroslav Brabec’s feature debut and can be described as a less extravagant predecessor of Guy Maddin’s “The Forbidden Room”.

An affectionate homage to silent cinema and early talkies, it is a wild, whacky genre mash-up which will probably make you wandering what the hell it is about. Starring Ondrej Pavelka as the writer of the original work and two of his characters, it is a meta-fantasy of sorts, involving an elderly Catalan prince, finger-chopping revenge, doomed lovers, hunting accident, regenerating beauty, cannibalistic practices, drunken pirates, money forgery, sneaky Jesuit priest and much, much more.

Oddly paced, this pulp gothic horror turned cheesy romance turned slapstick comedy turned oversea adventure turned artsy rumination (!) gets progressively weirder and harder to follow, yet it remains fascinating until the last minutes. Multiple storylines collide, intertwine, end abruptly and turn in unexpected directions, so it would be an understatement to say that the story-within-story structure is broken.

The playful, mischievous direction is matched by the superb performances of the entire cast who excel in emulating the silent era stars’ mannerisms. Also praiseworthy are the eclectic score, strong makeup, swell costume design, Brabec’s delightful cinematography, various editing techniques and hand-painted, intentionally artificial sets, which all convey the sense of watching an ancient film.

Pavelka’s i.e. Váchal’s voice-over, the inappropriate sounds and anachronistic jokes simultaneously dispel the illusion and contribute to the well-intentioned mockery.

 

5. Rampo (Kazuyoshi Okuyama, 1994) / Japan

Based on Edogawa Rampo’s writings, Kazuyoshi Okuyama’s directorial debut “suggests an Alfred Hitchcock film that has been stripped of its pulpy Freudian psychologizing and elevated into a meditation on the artistic imagination”, in the words of Stephen Holden for The New York Times.

In its subtle interweaving of dreams, reality and fiction, “Rampo” appears as a peculiar neo-noir melodrama of solemn atmosphere, elaborate aesthetics and, in its second half, twisted eroticism and aristocratic decadence. It opens with B&W archive footage, but soon moves to a mystery section of a library, revealing Rampo’s main sources of inspiration – Edgar Allan Poe’s and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s books – in full color.

These pre-title sequences are succeeded by a highly stylized animated adaptation of a soon-to-be censored story about a man who hides in a treasure chest (nagamochi) during a hide-and-seek game and suffocates. A little bit later, an unpublished work eerily coincides with a newspaper article on a murder case and from that point on, fantasy and reality begin to merge.

Exquisitely played by Naoto Takenaka, Rampo walks the blurred line between the said extremes, obsessing over a suspicious widow, Shizuko (the wonderful Michiko Hada), who brings to life his alter-ego – the private detective Kogorō Akechi (Masahiro Motoki). The famous novelist known as “the Japanese Poe” is portrayed as a bemused introvert who retreats into a cocoon of ink and paper, only to emerge as a dandy, handsome, self-confident “butterfly”.

Externalizing his subject’s inner world via the expressive, painterly imagery and lush, orchestral score, Okuyama reflects on passion and artistic creativity, pays a loving homage to “Vertigo” and “Psycho” and ends the film on a surrealistically ambiguous note.

8 Movies from the 21st Century that Should Have Won Palme d’Or

mulholland-drive

Quentin Tarantino, a Palme d’Or winner with Pulp Fiction, once said the following: “There’s only one list that’s more illustrious than the list of directors who won the Plame d’Or. It’s the list of directors who didn’t”. And while that might be a bit harsh, there is some truth to it: not only have directors like Kubrick or Hitchcock never won a Palme, but even some of the most celebrated auteur filmmakers, Truffaut, Godard, Welles, Renoir and many more, have not been given the honor.

While most modern geniuses, the Hanekes, Von Triers and Lynches have gotten their Cannes top award (or two), the jury missteps are still at least as common as the right calls. And since, as we’ve witnessed for several years in a row now, the jury decisions are extremely hard to predict, we have prepared a list that proves the best movie in show and the Palme d’Or award do not always walk hand in hand – so brace yourself when waiting for the Cannes 2017 winners.

For the sake of argument, let’s forget who the jury in each case was. Let’s also assume that they are as open-minded as any jury really should be. However, let’s keep in mind the overall tally of the wins – if a director already has a Palme, odds are not in his favor in this list, much like in real life.

The films are ranked by three criteria: how good they are, how much of a lasting impact have they had since and how obvious was their superiority over other Competition movies.

 

8. Polisse

Polisse

Don’t shoot us for this one, but The Tree of Life should not have won the Palme d’Or. Unlike most other movies on the list, Polisse by Maïwenn wasn’t snubbed for a much worse choice, as The Tree of Life still had some incredible filmmaking (and was also very divisive, always a big bonus for a winner), but Polisse was, nonetheless, the better, more worthy picture.

Maïwenn’s drama focuses on a journalist covering the work of a juvenile division of the police. Played by Maïwenn herself, the journalist soon starts an affair with one of the officers, and seems to generally get more and more emotionally involved every day.

While focusing on several characters and their everyday lives, the film doesn’t have a clear, unifying story, instead choosing to follow different perspectives. It’s extremely hard to keep up with for anyone not speaking French, because half of the movie is set in a room full of screaming people. But precisely by staying right in the center of events does the director manage to capture the essence of the people so well.

It’s very rare for any movie to touch the viewer emotionally, much less provoke both laughter and tears, yet, if given enough attention and care, that is exactly what Polisse does. A Palme win was not only deserved, but would also have shed light on a star-less drama.

 

7. Son of Saul

Son of Saul

The task of making an original and, even more importantly, relevant film on the Holocaust seems like a mission impossible in this day and age. Everything has been said many, many times over, and one can’t help but feel a little desensitized by the whole genre.

Well, László Nemes did exactly that and was, unsurprisingly, awarded first place on many yearly critic polls, nabbing the Oscar while at it. It didn’t win the Palme, though, as the honor went to Dheepan, the most boring and unmemorable movie Jacques Audiard ever made, and one that even with a Palme to its name is all but forgotten three years later.

Nemes points his camera to Saul all movie long. Every action, however important to the plot, is only in the background of the Auschwitz prisoner’s face. He has been forced to lead his own people to death and to take care of their corpses, he has long been dehumanized, as anyone would be in the situation in order not to go insane.

The focus on his face is what really get us, the audience, for the horror of mass murders is seen reflected in one human who is himself on the brink of collapse. We don’t just see a montage of tearful sorrow or joyous hope, we see the everyday life of Auschwitz. And while we might, through some rationalization, comprehend the numbers and the facts of all that death, we can’t bear seeing a real human being living the everyday life of them.

 

6. Hidden

cache-2005

Michael Haneke is a genius, that much is obvious. And everyone knows he is one a two-Palme winning streak at the moment, one that just might extend the three come next weekend, but lest we forget there was a period when he got Cannes Grand Jury, Best Director and FIPRESCI awards, but the biggest accolade escaped him.

That should have changed in 2005, when Hidden, a movie that to this day might be his best, was in Competition. In it, a married couple receives videotapes of their own home. Who might be filming them is unclear, but it’s obvious they were, and most likely still are, watched.

Hidden is a subversive thriller, one that puts a spin on our whole movie culture. There are countless theories explaining the answers Haneke didn’t spell out, and sure enough, everyone who’s seen it has their own take. And while Funny Games or The White Ribbon might be the two most obviously shocking films the Austrian has ever made, deep down Hidden is probably the biggest kick-in-the-teeth of his career, which is saying something.

The only reason (given the fact Haneke’s two other wins came later, so at the time of this Competition he was still winless) Hidden isn’t higher on the list is The Child by brothers Dardenne, the real Palme winner. It’s not as good or as influential, but it’s still an amazing feature, so while Haneke should have been the winner, this jury call wasn’t all that bad either.

 

5. Holy Motors

holy-motors-film

From a film that Haneke should have won for to a film that Haneke shouldn’t have. 2012 was the year he got his double with Amour, and while that’s a near masterpiece, the Cannes missed out on giving the award for one of the most interesting and philosophical movies of the 21st century while awarding the Austrian yet again.

Holy Motors by Leos Carax is a crazy movie and it’s not hard to see why the jury didn’t go its way. But as far as bold, inventive statements of the modern state of cinema and the world itself go, this is the real deal. Denis Lavant’s Monsieur Oscar travels to different tasks and jobs over one evening. Is he an office worker, a dancer or a murderer? And if he’s all of them, what on earth for?

Carax’s movie leaves much to the interpretation of the public and there are dozens of philosophical ideas on could employ to decipher the puzzle of Holy Motors. But even if one is not inclined to do so, the film offers some of the most dazzling images that are sure to get stuck in your mind for years to come.

We’re not saying Amour isn’t a worthy winner. We’re not even saying Holy Motors is the better feature. But by this time, in the perfect world of ours, Haneke would have won two Palmes already (and that’s in the 21st century, going back even further, there’s a good chance Funny Games would have gotten it too), and Carax has never won Cannes, Berlin or Venice. And he sure as hell deserves it, especially for his latest work.

The 15 Best American Gangster Movies of The 1990s

goodfellas

This is the third installment on the series American Gangster Films (1970s – 1990s).

In the 1990s, there was a revival of the gangster genre, not only in film but also in the literary circle. There was a restoration of the interest in the mafia, particularly the Italian mafia and New York City as the central setting for these stories.

Thus, the concept of organized crime within a family or a small circle, the values of tradition and above all loyalty were specially emphasized in the materials produced during the 90s. This trend might have been the result of perhaps a handful of events that happened in the end of the 1980s and during the 90s that had an impact on the United States, including the end of the Cold War.

American television started to concentrate more on the production of crime dramas (“Law & Order”, “Homicide: Life on the Street”, “The Sopranos”, “Wiseguy”). Books concentrated on organized crime became successful (“Donnie Brasco” by Joseph D. Pistone, “Casino” by Nicholas Pileggi, “The Last Don” by Mario Puzo). Video games started including new features and genres such as the first-person shooter.

The Los Angeles riots brought attention once more to police methods and organized crime, the hip-hop culture also emphasized the gang culture, the savings and loans crisis put under focus the corruption of figures and institutions connected with the nation’s law and order (The Keating Five). So, despite the economic growth felt during the 90s, there was a group of elements that might have led to the genre’s revival, which, of course, affected film as we shall see in this list.

 

15. Blood In Blood Out (1993, Taylor Hackford)

Blood In Blood Out

One of the most popular films of the 90s, “Blood In Blood Out” is set in sunny California and revolves around the lives of three Mexican-Americans – Miklo (Damian Chapa), Cruz (Jesse Borrego) and Paco (Benjamin Bratt).

The film opens in 1972 with the three men being part of a Los Angeles gang named “Vatos Locos”. Soon they see themselves involved in a violent event that will alter their lives and dictate their separation as Paco becomes a police officer, Miklo is sent to San Quentin State Prison, whereas Cruz becomes a painter with a serious drug addiction.

At the time of its release, the film received a mixed wave of critics; some thought the film fell too much on the cliché and lacked originality either visually speaking or in terms of the story. However, the audiences were driven by it and it became a successful film, particularly because of the film’s concentration on the ‘Chicano’ and ‘Barrio’ cultures, as well as the violence between street gangs and police in Los Angeles, particularly in the 1970s and 1980s.

 

14. A Bronx Tale (1993, Robert De Niro)

A Bronx Tale

From California, we travel to the other end of the country, New York, specifically the Bronx. Directed by Robert De Niro in his first directorial effort, “A Bronx Tale” is set in the 1960s against an Italian mafia background, following the path of a young boy named Calogero Anello. From his childhood up to his teenage years, he has his life divided by the guidance of two opposite men – his father Lorenzo (Robert De Niro) and a mafia boss named Sonny LoSpecchio (Chazz Palminteri).

This film is a coming-of-age tale which benefits from the great screen presences of veterans De Niro and Palminteri, who actually wrote the play upon which the film is based as well as the film’s screenplay. And perhaps the key lies on the fact that this is a very human drama that has the power and pace to lead the audience through a range of varied feelings and states of mind, from anger to irony to laugher. It depicts life in a very honest way and therefore, it stands as a very close-to-heart film.

 

13. State of Grace (1990, Phil Joanou)

State of Grace (1990)

Despite having been outshone by the release of “Goodfellas” which happened around the same time, “State of Grace” is another interesting depiction of organized crime produced in the 90s. The film was heavily inspired by the Hell’s Kitchen culture, and it tells the story of a man named Terry Noonan (Sean Penn) who returns to New York and reunites with his childhood friend Jackie Flannery (Gary Oldman). Jackie is part of the Irish mafia as is his brother Frankie (Ed Harris), who happens to be the leader of a local gang.

Terry is, in secret, working as an undercover officer who soon finds himself immersed in a moral crossroad: either he respects his loyalty to his family and friends, or he chooses to follow his duties as a police officer.

Even though the plot may lack in terms of originality and be quite complicated at times, the great aspect of this film is perhaps the actors’ performances, who understand the importance of behaviour and body language in a film like this. They manage to give solid performances in their roles, particularly Oldman and Harris.

 

12. Boyz n the Hood (1991, John Singleton)

Boyz_n_the_Hood

Set in Los Angeles, this film is a coming-of-age picture that follows the lives of three young men living in a problematic black neighbourhood. It stars younger versions of Cuba Gooding Jr., Ice Cube, Laurence Fishburne, Angela Bassett and Morris Chestnut, who give thoughtful and solid performances.

The film, in the manner of coming-of-age pictures, assumes an observational point of view that explores themes connected to the lives of these three young men, particularly touching subjects related with race, suality, violence and dreams.

In the 90s, there were a number of films produced that targeted young audiences and “Boyz n the Hood” followed that trend. However, it overcomes that new wave of teenage angst to become a depiction of human drama, therefore appealing to ‘all ages and sizes’.

Another interesting aspect of this film is the rhythm which evolves achievements in editing (sharp cut) and directing (hand held camera, proximity to the characters). In addition to that, the film is also a cultural landmark, which at the time of its release had an immense impact on American society.

 

11. One False Move (1992, Carl Franklin)

ONE FALSE MOVE

Perhaps not as well known today as some of the other titles on this list, Carl Franklin’s “One False Move” is nevertheless a title worthy of proper recognition. The film, set in California (Los Angeles), Texas (Houston) and Arkansas (Star City), follows the path of a gang of three criminals, Ray (Billy Bob Thornton), Pluto (Michael Beach) and Fantasia (Cynda Williams), who, upon finishing a crime spree that includes murder and theft, depart for Texas where they plan to sell the drugs they’ve robbed.

The L.A.P.D. are prevented from following the criminals, since they’ve gone out of the department’s jurisdiction; knowing that the criminal trio will go to Arkansas, they contact the police chief Dale Dixon (Bill Paxton), who then waits for the killers to arrive.

Similar to other film predecessors such as “In Cold Blood” (1967) or “Badlands” (1973), “One False Move” is a study of human behaviour, relationships, and the forces and elements of the individual against the concept of group and vice-versa. It opposes a group of black people to a group of white people without falling on the cliché of race and prejudice. For that, this film is also a must-see.

 

10. Bullets Over Broadway (1994, Woody Allen)

Bullets Over Broadway

Set in 1928’s New York, “Bullets Over Broadway” is a comedy film that revolves around a neurotic playwright named David Shayne (John Cusack), who is a newcomer to the Broadway atmosphere.

Struggling to find financial backing for his new play “God of Our Fathers”, Shayne agrees to cast an aspiring talentless actress named Olive Neal (Jennifer Tilly) who is the prize girlfriend of a local gangster, only to find out that her bodyguard, a low-level gangster named Cheech (Chazz Palminteri), is actually the real deal, since the man is able to come up with excellent ideas that help the play.

This is perhaps one of the most overlooked films made by Woody Allen, shadowed by other career achievements in the late 80s and 90s such as “Crimes and Misdemeanors” (1989) and “Manhattan Murder Mystery” (1993). Nevertheless, the film is a very intelligent comedy that explores the ‘dandy’ side of being a gangster, and the power criminal syndicates had during the roaring 20s.

However, the film also presents the audience with more serious questions, such as the responsibility for one’s creation – what is creation and what is the relationship between the author and its object? Is it his/her object of affection? What are the limits when it comes to bringing one’s creation to life?

 

9. Donnie Brasco (1997, Mike Newell)

Donnie Brasco

Based on the true events that surrounded the life of federal agent Joseph D. Pistone in New York in the 1970s, “Donnie Brasco” borrows the agent’s alias as a title for a biographical film that accounts for the incidents leading an FBI agent working undercover inside one of New York’s top crime families to go from a lawful side to a criminal end.

The film became one of the most popular in the 90s, and it was praised for several reasons. Among the two most expressed were, first and foremost, its performances, particularly Johnny Depp as Donnie Brasco, and Al Pacino as a small-time gangster and Brasco’s contact in the mob. And on the other hand, the film was seen as a moral tale and a very human drama, for it explores the fall of a man, his duty for his fellow, his desires, his conflict, and his complex behaviours.

In the film, this is all clear through Brasco’s own words: “You think I hate you? I don’t hate you. This job is eating me alive. I can’t breathe anymore. And if I come out. This guy Lefty dies. They’re gonna kill him because he vouched for me. Because he stood up for me. I live with that every day. That’s the same thing if I put the bullet through his head myself, you understand? I spend all these years trying to be the good guy, you know? The man in the white fin’ hat. For what? For nothin’. I’m not becoming like them, Maggie, I am them.”

15 Great Cinematographers Overshadowed by the Iconic Directors They Worked With

In the world of cinema, artistic praise is usually reserved for directors, writers, and producers. Film critics and audiences are quick to create a cult of celebrity around a visionary director who displays a distinct visual style and unique storytelling abilities that sets him apart from his peers.

The same could be said for screenwriters who craft witty dialogue, compelling narratives, and stories that stand the test of time. Producers are admired for bringing all the right pieces together – directors, writers, and actors making projects that both audiences and critics love, while at the same time, producing films that generate huge profits at the box office.

However, there is no person working on a film set more underrated yet so essential to the success of a film than the cinematographer. These masters of light use cameras, lenses, film stock, and lighting equipment to create powerful visual images to help a director bring their story to life on the big screen.

It can even be argued that, next to a director, the cinematographer is the most important person on a film production; there have been many films that began filming without a completed screenplay, but no movie can truly be successful if the photography isn’t outstanding.

Not all cinematographers live in obscurity; quite a few have gone on to become legends in the film industry, but even some of the most acclaimed directors of photography are sometimes overshadowed during the collaborating process with certain directors. We compiled a list containing 15 of the greatest cinematographers, past and present, who unfortunately took a back seat when they worked with certain iconic directors.

 

15. Gregg Toland

Gregg Toland

Gregg Toland was truly one of the most innovative and influential cinematographers to ever live. He was nominated five times for best cinematography and won an Oscar for “Wuthering Heights”, released in 1939.

Toland is best remembered for creating the deep focus technique on “Citizen Kane”, where the filmmakers were able to keep several elements of the frame in focus at the same time. Toland was able to accomplish this by closing down on the aperture, using extremely bright lights and faster film stock, and the results were visually stunning.

Rumor has it that Toland sought out Orson Welles, telling the young filmmaker that he wanted to photograph his next film, even bringing along the Oscar he won for Best Cinematography and showing it off to Welles.

Obviously, Welles made a wise decision by hiring Toland and the resulting collaboration on the film would go down in history as one of the greatest films ever made. While Welles is credited with being the young visionary genius behind “Citizen Kane” it is no doubt that Toland’s contribution is one of the main reasons the film is so revered to this very day.

 

14. John Alcott

John Alcott D

What separated legendary film director Stanley Kubrick from other directors in the industry was the fact he was more than able to light a set on his own and was an unofficial cinematographer himself. But Kubrick only worked with one cinematographer more than once and that was John Alcott, with whom he collaborated on “A Clockwork Orange”, “Barry Lyndon”, and “The Shining”.

Alcott loved natural light and he approached lighting in a naturalistic style. For day exteriors, he often used reflectors and diffusion and had his actors backlighted. For interiors, he usually placed his actors by blown-out windows and loved to used ND and diffusion filters, and used side lighting to light his actor’s faces.

Alcott won an Oscar for Best Cinematography for “Barry Lyndon”, but it would be hard for anyone working on a Kubrick film to receive any recognition for their contribution. However, the fact Kubrick choose to work with Alcott on many of his films is testament to Alcott’s talents as a cinematographer.

 

13. Bradford Young

Bradford Young DP

A new age director of photography who has come to prominence in the age of digital cinematography, Bradford Young often operates his own camera and shoots with a wide open aperture to accomplish a shallow depth of field. He loves to underexpose his films and uses soft light to achieve beautiful images. He usually uses top light, and for day exteriors he uses natural light, but will also use tungsten and HMI lights to get the results he wants.

Young is one of the hottest cinematographers in the business and is currently filming the standalone Han Solo film for the Star Wars franchise, and his involvement in a film can overshadow many journeymen directors working in the business.

As the cinematographer on the film “Arrival”, he was nominated for an Oscar and became the first African-American nominated for that category in the 87-year history of the ceremony. But even without that groundbreaking fact, it would be hard to outshine Denis Villeneuve, who is currently the hottest director in the industry.

When it comes to talent, it is does say a lot that after working with legendary cinematographer Roger Deakins on the film “Sicario”, Villeneuve would chose a cinematographer that was non-union just four years ago to photograph his big-budget film “Arrival” which means the hottest director in the industry is anointing Bradford Young as the go to cinematographer of the future.

 

12. Larry Fong

Larry-Fong

Looking at his filmography, you might think that all Larry Fong does all day is light a green screen, but watching the film “Super 8”, you see Fong can create rich and vibrant images.

On his big-budget films, Fong tries to keep a naturalistic look and often uses the Rembrandt or split-lighting style, and uses a harsh light opposite the key. When it comes to movement, the camera is always steady and rarely does he use shaky handheld camera movement. He loves the 27mm lens and his camera of choice is Panavision. He loves to mix in colors but in a subtle fashion.

In shooting the majority of Zach Snyder’s films, Fong has helped bring superheroes, zombies and Spartans to life in vivid fashion. Snyder gets the credit for being a maestro when it comes to big-budget action films but it’s Fong’s beautiful photography that breathes realism into fantasy.

 

11. Janusz Kaminski

Janusz Kaminski

When you’re the only cinematographer Steven Spielberg has worked for more than 20 years, it means you have been at the top of your game for a long time. From his arresting black-and-white photography in “Schindler’s List” or the realism of “Saving Private Ryan”, Kaminski is one of the best cinematographer to ever light a set.

Kaminski doesn’t try to replicate reality with his lighting; it’s more of impressionistic style. He tends to use a strong backlight as a second key using smoke or haze in the backlight as well. He even backlights his actors on day exteriors and will apply diffusion filters and nets on his lenses to get a softer image, and loves to use soft lights on his subject.

Working with Spielberg for so many years, many casual observers might attribute all the visuals in the films as the ownership of Spielberg alone. However, one of the best and most important decisions Spielberg has made to contribute to his success for all these decades is continuing his partnership with Kaminski.

 

10. Robert Yeoman

Robert Yeoman

The visual style of “The Grand Budapest Hotel” is bold and striking, which is a departure from most of Wes Anderson’s films, which are usually subtle when it comes to the photography; it shows the range of Robert Yeoman, who can deliver beautiful cinematography that can go unnoticed, letting the story and actors take center stage.

Shooting day exteriors, Yeoman typically backlights his actors and creates soft light from a single source. He love to shoots day for night and often uses Chinese lanterns to light his actors, and the DP rarely uses filters on his lenses to achieve a sharper image.

Spike Lee once said he owes his entire career to cinematographer Ernest derson and it’s safe to say Wes Anderson, considered one of the most important directors of our time, can say the same thing about Robert Yeoman.

 

9. Robert Elswit

Robert Elswit

Few cinematographers can take a barren location and make it look as gorgeous the way Robert Elswit did in the film “There Will Be Blood”. His frequent collaboration with Paul Thomas Anderson have brought us some of the most hypnotic movies since the mid 90s. Elswit loves a contrasty image and he typically lights faces on a contrast ratio of 2:1 or 3:1.

Next to working with the director, he collaborates the most with the production designers on the set to help create a cohesive visual look. He often uses an overexposed side key light and likes to under expose his background. He usually uses Panavision cameras and prime lenses.

Elswit has filmed all of Paul Thomas Anderson’s films except for one, and received an Oscar for “There Will Be Blood”. Anderson is considered one of the greatest directors of our time and Elswit’s brilliant photography is one of the reasons why.

Pulling Focus: Everybody Wants Some!! (2016)

Everybody Wants Some (2016)

“We came for a good time, not for a long time.”

– Willoughby (played by Wyatt Russell)

 

Let the good times roll

A loyal and warm-hearted love letter to youth and the impermanent magic hour that glimmers and glints just ahead of adulthood, Everybody Wants Some!! is the pleasantly meandering kind of picture that Richard Linklater excels in.

Ostensibly a college comedy with an emphatically male gaze, the film is also put together as the “spiritual sequel” not just to Linklater’s earlier and venerated Dazed and Confused (1993)––a generational rites of passage/coming-of-age/teen stoner anthem––but also to his extolled and very intimate epic Boyhood (2014).

Where Dazed and Confused unravelled on the last day of high school for a cross-section of Texas teens in 1976 and where Boyhood completes on a college kid encountering his new roomies and a potential girlfriend, Everybody Wants Some!! dogs at the heels of a Texas university baseball team over a three-day long weekend in August, 1980.

Where those earlier films from Linklater were largely fascinated with youthful formality, teenage tropes, and sentimentality, this films edges its protagonists away from the aggregate and more into individualism, and with that the identity impasse that comes with being on your own for the first time, from exposure to strange and untrained surroundings, and from discovering who to become and how to contend in a new and grown-up world.

“There’s a relationship between Boyhood and Everybody Wants Some!! that’s almost as strong as the tie to Dazed. They start at the same time. I was thinking of Everybody Wants Some!! throughout this century, in the same time period as I was doing Boyhood, I was writing and rewriting this movie. It’s funny they end up back to back, as a continuation. Ellar in Boyhood is kind of the better angel of my nature, and Jake is the more carousing, extroverted, fun guy.”

– Richard Linklater

 

Take the time, do it right

As Jake Bradford, the film’s primary protagonist, Blake Jenner imbues the savvy and somewhat cocky college freshman––a high school sports hero due to his skills as a pitcher––with the mettle to hold his own with his often gruff teammates, but also the wistful drawing power to be dubbed desirable as “the quiet guy in the backseat” by Beverly (a delightful Zoey Deutch), a co-ed who proves to be unattainable to Jake’s coy peers.

As Jake drifts and twists, taking his inaugural steps on campus and environs, this forms the relaxed and repetitive structure which the film adheres to. Set at the fictional Southeast Texas University––based largely on Sam Houston State University in Hunstville, Texas, where a freshman Linklater once played baseball himself––this sentimental snapshot is also as formal and subtly refined as the director’s best work.

Each day presents an enjoyable coalesce of ripening adolescence, often typified by inconsequential bro exchanges––not nearly as chaffing or as chauvinistic as it sounds––beer swilling, pot smoking, girl chasing, music blasting, persistent partying and sports playing, the trademarks of the genre.

The college movie, it must be said, purviews back to the earliest days of cinema, and Everybody Wants Some!!, in this respect, is ingrained as much in the tradition of Harold Lloyd’s The Freshman (1925) and the Marx Brothers’ Horse Feathers (1932) as it is to more modern comedies such as National Lampoon’s Animal House (1978) and Old School (2003).

And in these differing yet congruent films we find the familiar affections of bonds being built, rules being broken, love being discovered, and most obstacles and embarrassments being satisfied in a hazy brume of partying and/or sport (usually both).

“Linklater barely puts a foot wrong, and he shows that a movie about happiness can be cogent and robust, rather than sappy or wispy; and yet, for all its gambolling mischief, “Everybody Wants Some!!” leaves us with plenty to rue… For these young Americans, the past few days have been their waking life, cranked up to the max, and everything to come—the serious task of studying, graduating, and growing up—will be a dream.”

– Anthony Lane, The New Yorker

 

Ooh, my little pretty one, my pretty one

As a comedy that cuts close to the bone of teen exploitation fare, Everybody Wants Some!! is frequently very funny, from the irreverent small talk, a Linklater staple that may grate with some but here is customarily self-effacing and representational––the polar opposite of a gabfest by Kevin Smith, for instance––to gelastic set pieces such as the eccentric and vying antics during the Southeast Texas Cherokees’ first unofficial practice session.

One particularly rewarding running gag, part of what Jake describes as an “identity crisis” that has him and the Cherokee’s regularly changing their appearance, musical style, and venue, each and every night of the long weekend.

Jake is convinced, and he makes a compelling case, that he and his teammates are so can-do and compliable because they’re still just half-formed fledglings. They don’t know who they are yet, or what they like.

And it’s not a terrible stretch, this early in the game, for the likes of Dale (Quinton Johnson), Finnegan (Glen Powell), Plummer (Temple Baker), Roper (Ryan Guzman), Willoughby (Wyatt Russell), and the rest to go from haughty disco dancer to anxious urban cowboy to stilted punk rocking anarchist to puffed up theater school goody-goody at the drop of a beer pong.

In fact, as our easygoing bros enter each different cliquey crowd, they find many welcome precedents and largely eschew any stereotypic circumstances. It’s not didactic or full of readymade platitudes, either.

Everybody Wants Some!!––the title of which is lifted from a 1980 promiscuous party anthem from Van Halen––is an affable, male-centric teen comedy that’s jaunty appeal stems at least partially from the fact that it’s free of the gross-out gags and unnecessary indignity that plagues almost all contemporary films of this variety.

That’s not to say this isn’t a film without hazards and hijinks, free of sual promiscuity and tinges of violence––what truthful telling of young Americans would lack these? Here the messy misunderstandings of clashing personalities and youthful romantic pursuits are given predominantly obliging concession.

 

Didn’t I, didn’t I, didn’t I, see you cryin’?

While Linklater smartly avoids the silly slapstick and sist locker-room spying that teen pics from the 1980s that this film largely and intentionally replicates, it is, like those lesser films, a product of the male gaze.

Girls in short shorts and tight shirts undulating on the dance floor or getting amorous amidst the frat house fete is customary here. And regrettably, Beverly appears as the only female character in Everybody Wants Some!! and she largely feels half-drawn and a little banal. She’s pretty, sweet, and tenacious, but next to everyone else that Jake meets she’s tame, reflective, and even a little dull.

Cheerful, compliant, and unfortunately objectified, it’s the one flaw of the film that the forcibly male perspective, white and heterosual to boot, is the only real miscarry in what’s otherwise a pleasant and perceptive ascendancy.

What really saves the arguably sectarian environment of Everybody Wants Some!! rests in Linklater’s unfettered approach and his floating camera. Sure, the women here depicted draw the eye and excite the horniness of the young men, but it’s largely the male psyche and askew ego that’s pronounced. It’s what these men are trying to prove to one another that labors the point.

“If you’ve seen Linklater’s other films, you know that time for him isn’t just a factor, it’s a character, a player. Encounters always seem more intense when there’s a built-in limit — before sunrise, sunset, midnight. The life of a boy feels more momentous when he seems to be aging before your eyes, never to be again what he was only a few minutes earlier. What everybody wants in Everybody Wants Some!! is not just s and success on the field. It’s what we all want. It’s time.”

– David Edelstein, Vulture

 

You’re a heartbreaker, dream maker, a love taker…

When I was a teenager Dazed and Confused arrived on the scene at first as valuable social currency for anyone who’d seen it––I grew up in the sticks, okay?––and then later, thanks to home video and premium channels, it became a hallowed and indispensable part of the zeitgeist. Will Everybody Wants Some!! hold a similar sway for the generations currently coming of age? Time will tell, of course, but it has all the accouterments to do just that.

Certainly there are a number of witty wisecracks (“You’ve got to embrace your inner strange, man. Just be weird.”), and memorable scenes (Dale, Finn, Plummer, Roper, and Jake cruising and singing along perfectly to the Sugarhill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight”––echoing the memorable Wayne’s World does Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” number most respectfully) to safety and secure this film indelibly into the hearts of many who come across it.

The overlapping youthful discussions, the contagious optimism, the perceptive and often unassuming laughs, and the naturalistic and perceptible performances from a cast unencumbered with haut monde Hollywood stars elevate the film to the top ranks of Linklater’s filmography. It’s the right kind of light touch that the director does so well and underscores the prem everybody wants some, how ‘bout you?

Author Bio: Shane Scott-Travis is a film critic, screenwriter, comic book author/illustrator and cineaste. Currently residing in Vancouver, Canada, Shane can often be found at the cinema, the dog park, or off in a corner someplace, paraphrasing Groucho Marx. Follow Shane on Twitter @ShaneScottravis.

All 17 Takeshi Kitano Movies Ranked From Worst To Best

Kitano ranked

Takeshi Kitano is one of Japan’s most celebrated award winning film-makers. Across Europe his work is highly regarded, with his highlight being the recipient of the Golden Lion award for Hana-Bi at the Venice International Film Festival.

To most of the casual film fans in the western world his filmography is still relatively unknown, although some recognise him from Battle Royale, hit TV show Takeshi’s Castle (Most Extreme Elimination Challenge) and more recently as Daisuke Aramaki in Hollywood’s adaptation of Ghost In The Shell.

Even though Kitano’s films are well received in international film circuits, his work can be polarizing which is why the majority of his films haven’t been commercial hits in his native Japan where they often still view him as a comedian and television host.

Takeshi Kitano’s idiosyncratic cinematic work often focuses on stories about the Yakuza (Japanese Mafia) and the police. His cinematography style is minimalistic, yet elegant. Focusing on long takes with static camera movements, sometimes with barely anything happening in frame.

With a reputation for some of his work containing strong elements of violence, Kitano isn’t afraid to show blood or gun shots or pinkies being chopped off on screen. But with his simplistic style of film-making often he edits to the aftermath of an event, so the viewer doesn’t actually see the action occur, but still knows what happens. This is one of Takeshi Kitano’s strong points as he knows how to get the viewer to feel what emotions he is trying to convey and can achieve it in numerous ways.

The majority of Kitano’s filmography is written, directed, edited by and often starring himself. He very much has full control over his body of work which allows him to express himself artistically and to tell the stories he wants to tell without interference from a major studio.

 

17. Glory To The Filmmaker

The second part of Kitano’s surrealist autobiographical trilogy is his weakest film. Following on from Takeshis’, Kitano is back making a set of films that “are not for critics or audiences” as he put it.

Takeshi Kitano stars as a unreal version of himself. Kitano is a celebrity in his homeland but also a successful film-maker internationally, he has stated he won’t make any more films like the ones he is known for. But this leaves him wondering what he can do next. As he essentially tries to wing it, picking a genre at random and trying to come up with a story that might result in a good film. Points of the story closely mirror his actual life to the point you begin question what is fact, and what is fiction.

Kitano’s attempt at making films of each genre are tackled well and if your familiar with Japanese cinema, there are some in-jokes and many laugh-out-loud moments. From spoofs of a slow black and white Ozu film, to the widely popular J-Horror films, to shots fired at artistic romantic dramas and even a spoof of period martial art films including a scene which looks right out of Shinobi.

Although the running time feels overlong even at under 2 hours, the film does have relative momentum until the midway point when things start to get more crazy and the story falls apart. The funny vignettes and wacky ideas are reduced to complete nonsense. The whole story spins off in another direction with no indication why.

The irony of Glory To The Film-maker is that the story revolves around Kitano not wanting to make any more Yakuza films, but 3 years later he tackled the Yakuza genre again with Outrage, which would go on to be one of his biggest hits.

 

16. Takeshis’

takeshis

Takeshis’ was the first film of the director’s “creative destruction”. Although Takeshis’ is extremely unconventional and not very accessible, it is still a somewhat engaging ride.

Takeshi Kitano stars as struggling actor and convenience store worker called Kitano and also as a prominent actor and showbiz celebrity called ‘Beat’ Takeshi. After a chance encounter between them both, look-alike Kitano begins to go on a surreal journey interchanging between both of their radically different lives resulting in a dark unstable fantasy.

Confronting the differences between the real Takeshi and his on screen persona, you will find Takeshis’ a much more rewarding watch if you are a fan of his other work. Filled with many in-jokes about his other films, this is ideally not the best starting point if you are just discovering his filmography.

As the film becomes more absurd, it also becomes funnier. Full of Kitano-esque offbeat humour, there are Sumo wrestlers in drag, angry chefs hilariously berating customers and plenty of self parody including over stylised shoot outs. This could be in part to Kitano giving up on Yakuza films so he wanted to go out with a bang.

One of his most personal films which requires multiple viewing to understand, and even then, most of the ideas in the film are still a mystery.

 

15. Getting Any?

Getting Any

While Kitano’s other films contain comedic scenes, it took him until his 5th directed film before he made a full blown comedy. Returning to his comedic roots for Getting Any? Takeshi Kitano would unleash a slapstick sual comedy that isn’t afraid to go to dark or disgusting places for a laugh.

Asao is a simple man who has one thing on his mind, s. Believing that his dull life and unhappiness will all be changed if he finally gets laid, he goes on a desperate adventure to try and have s with whoever he can and wherever he can. This results in Asao taking up ridiculous measures such as becoming an actor, a drug dealer or even a hitman. Nothing will stop him until he has accomplished his goal.

This is an extremely funny film. For the most part, the jokes work and there are many genuinely funny moments, as well as many scenes that deliver awkward laughs. Luckily the jokes are delivered at the same pace of a film like Airplane! so there is always another gag due soon.

There are Japanese pop culture references throughout and spoofs of many films including Ghostbusters, The Fly, Ultraman, Lone Wolf and Cub and Zatoichi. In another example of life imitating art in Kitano’s films, he would go on to direct a Zatoichi film 8 years later.

During an interview with Takeshi Kitano in 2003 he unexpectedly listed Getting Any? in his top three personal favourites films from his own body of work.

 

14. Achilles And The Tortoise

Achilles and the Tortoise

Takeshi Kitano’s last entry to his surrealist autobiographical trilogy is also the strongest of the series, this is due to many reasons including the return to a simpler narrative structure and less surrealism. In Takeshis’ he poked fun at himself as a Yakuza actor. In Glory To The Filmmaker he poked fun at his entire film-making career. And in Achilles And The Tortoise he pokes fun at his art.

A young boy Machisu is influenced early in life to become a painter by his rich father who is an art collector. The boy is constantly praised for his art because nobody wants to undermine his father. After his father loses his livelihood, he commits suicide which results in Machisu getting taken in by an orphanage, but it never stops him from wanting to become a painter and create a real piece of art.

The film follows on the motto of the title Achilles And The Tortoise. Machisu being Achilles and his art is the tortoise. It seems like no matter how hard he tries to create great art, it always escapes him. When he catches up to where art is, it has moved on a bit further, again and again.

The film is essentially split in to three sections, the first section as a young child, the second as a young adult at art school and the last being as a middle aged failed artist obsessed with still creating something great. The first 2 timelines are the stronger narrative sections which can become pretty heavy in terms of theme and tone.

The 3rd timeline is when Kitano takes over for the acting, and things start to get a little crazy with many comedy skits and less emphasis on the story. The film has many humorous moments especially in the scenes with the creation of art by some bizarre radical measures, these are done tongue-and-cheek but could also be to reflect his true feelings of modern art.

 

13. Boiling Point

Boiling Point is Kitano’s second film as a director and first film as a screen writer. Although not as polished as some of his classics, it introduced create many characteristics and themes that are prevalent throughout future films such as Sonatine, Hana-Bi and Brother.

Masaki is a simple reserved man who has a few loves in life, riding his motorbike and playing for his losing baseball team. His coach is beaten by a local Yakuza after Masaki accidentally crosses him, which results in them fearing for their lives. Masaki flees to Okinawa to buy a gun so his coach can get revenge. Unfortunately, after arriving he is befriended by a psychotic gangster who has his own plans of revenge against the Yakuza.

Boiling Point introduced dark comedy to Kitano’s films to combat the heavy violent themes, many of which are visual comedic moments. An indulgence in brutal violence is rampant throughout with the slow shoot-outs, characters getting bloody beatings or slapped around and even some sual assault towards both men and women.

Takeshi Kitano delivers a stunning performance as perverse gangster Uehara, who is as charming and funny as he is scary and disturbing. Unfortunately Kitano only has a supporting role in the film as more screen time could have elevated the film higher. Somewhere neatly in between a coming-of-age story and a gangster thriller is Boiling Point.