Saturday, December 29, 2012

Jack Reacher (Theatrical Review)

Jack Reacher (2012)
Action, Crime, Thriller, 130 minutes
Directed by Christopher McQuarrie
Starring Tom Cruise, Rosamund Pike, Jai Courtney, Robert Duvall, Werner Herzog, David Oyelowo and Richard Jenkins

This review contains spoilers, but most of the information is contained in the trailer. Stop reading now if you want to be surprised.

Director Christopher McQuarrie won an Oscar for his screenplay on The Usual Suspects, and he also wrote the screenplay for Jack Reacher. If you have seen the trailer, you might think that the movie is a pure adrenalin rush in the same vein as Taken, but that's not exactly correct. There is plenty of action, but McQuarrie also gives his characters time to breathe, and we learn a little about the backgrounds of most of the major players.

The movie begins with someone shooting five apparently random strangers from long range with a rifle. This is shown in close-up. In fact, this movie has more close-ups than any I have ever seen. It includes facial shots, point-of-view shots, and objects. The camera angles are also interesting. Perhaps the intention was to place us right among the action?

A man is arrested for the shooting and asks for Jack Reacher (Cruise). Unfortunately, Reacher is something of a mystery and nobody knows how to contact him. When he does eventually appear, it's on his terms. We learn that he was an investigator of sorts while in the army, and he's enlisted by Helen (Pike), who is the lawyer representing the accused man. Reacher isn't sure he's even guilty.

I don't think that I should give away many more plot points, so I'll talk more generally about what you can expect. But I will say that the story is fairly predictable.

I'm not a big fan of Tom Cruise, but I think this is one of his best performances and I would put it up there with Collateral. At 50 years of age, he's still a convincing action star, and I believed that he had the skills to do what he does in the movie. McQuarrie also keeps some of the action scenes realistic and things don't always work out perfectly for the hero.

You'll see Reacher investigating the crime, and we are shown how some of his realizations come to pass. There's an enjoyable cameo from Robert Duvall, and nobody gives a truly bad performance in the entire movie.

Action fans will enjoy a few fight scenes, a car chase, and a big shootout, but there's a story present at all times. This isn't a movie without substance. Reacher is the only character who is given much to do. At times it seems as though everyone else is standing around waiting to see what happens.

Jack Reacher won't blow you away, but it's better than the standard genre offerings. I could easily see it spawning a sequel, and I would probably go and see it.

Overall score 4/5

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Django Unchained (Theatrical Review)

Django Unchained (2012)
Action, Comedy, Drama, Western, 165 minutes
Directed by Quentin Tarantino
Starring Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio, Samuel L. Jackson, and Kerry Washington

It's been almost 24 hours since I saw Quentin Tarantino's latest effort, and I still have mixed feelings. The first thing that you should know is that he is probably my favorite director. While his movies don't quite reach the heights of David Lynch's Mulholland Dr., he is responsible for more movies in my Top 20 than any other director. His movies have a unique feel and I love spending time in his worlds.

If you have somehow never seen a Tarantino movie, I should mention that they are not for everyone. All feature a significant amount of violence, although the majority of the situations are so ludicrous that you aren't meant to take things seriously. I would say that every Tarantino movie is, at heart, a comedy, but his brand of comedy is darker than most. It doesn't matter whether you usually don't like war, Westerns, crime, or kung fu movies, because Tarantino creates a genre of his own. Like Monty Python, the humor is extremely silly, but works because of its underlying intelligence.

It's necessary for you to understand the love and respect I have for Tarantino's work in order to appreciate the significance of my eventual rating.

Let's get to Django Unchained.

Settings include Texas, Mississippi, and Tennessee, and the opening scene takes place in 1858 (two years before the Civil War). It's clear from the start that this isn't going to be a conventional story. Dr. King Schultz (Waltz) is a bounty hunter posing as a dentist. We see him free Django from slavers, while giving the remaining captives their freedom and the ability to decide their own fate. Schultz enters into an agreement with Django, and the two spend the remainder of the year together as bounty hunters. Schultz ultimately discovers that Django is seeking his wife, Broomhilda (Washington), and decides to help him. That involves searching every plantation until they find her.

The plot is of little consequence in Django Unchained. Like every other Tarantino movie, this is more about style. If you are looking for plot holes or deep meaning, you have chosen the wrong director. I know that many people will be offended by the subject matter, the violence, and the foul language, but I'm almost certain that Tarantino merely intends to entertain and provide as much fun as possible along the way. I obviously detest the thought of slavery, and people being whipped or murdered, but it wasn't really on my mind as I watched the movie. The tongue-in-cheek tone allowed me to separate the hideous events from any semblance of reality.

The main reason I like Tarantino's work so much is because it is creative, and contains some of the best dialogue you'll ever hear. Those elements are present in Django Unchained, and some scenes and conversations work wonderfully. The bulk of the good scenes involve Christoph Waltz, who is essentially playing Hans Landa. Expect flowery dialogue delivered in a very deliberate way. He can talk his way out of almost any situation and he's full of surprises. If you can't imagine a scene involving the Ku Klux Klan being funny, Tarantino somehow pulls it off.

Foxx does a reasonable job as Django, but I can't help thinking what Will Smith might have done with the role. DiCaprio plays Calvin Candie, who owns a plantation and seemingly has no scruples whatsoever. He's probably the best character in the movie with the exception of Schultz. It's always good to see Samuel L. Jackson working with Tarantino, and his performance as Stephen was strong. He plays a complicated character who is difficult to like.

Despite all the familiar elements, Django Unchained often struggles to reach the level of Tarantino's best movies. Tarantino is a master at selecting the right music for a particular scene, but he misses the mark this time. There's nothing to match Bang Bang (Kill Bill), Across 110th Street (Jackie Brown), Cat People (Inglourious Basterds), Stuck in the Middle (Reservoir Dogs), or Dick Dale's Misirlou (Pulp Fiction). I can't think of any meaningful music from Django Unchained, despite the inevitable inclusion of something from Ennio Morricone.

I don't have a thorough understanding of the role of an editor, but I have to wonder how much the absence of Sally Menke hurt the movie. It's the first time Tarantino has made a movie without her, and at 165 minutes, Django Unchained is his longest to date. Would Menke have turned it into a more cohesive story?

I cared about Butch Coolidge, Jackie Brown, The Bride, and Shosanna Dreyfus, but I was never really invested in Django's quest to find his wife. Perhaps it would have worked better if I had been shown something of their history together?

Do you remember the opening scene from Inglourious Basterds in which Hans Landa talks to a French farmer? That's one of the best scenes that Tarantino has ever written and it works because he builds tension throughout. In Django Unchained, the tension is less intense and some of the scenes feel rushed and end prematurely. This is especially true in a scene with DiCaprio, Foxx and Waltz near the end of the movie. In fact, the ending as a whole seems entirely too predictable for something penned by Tarantino.

Tarantino is still playful, clever, creative, funny, and unpredictable, for the most part, but something is slightly off this time. I would say that Django Unchained is his second-weakest film behind Death Proof, but it still might end up as my favorite from 2012 when I have seen it a few times. If you are a Tarantino fan, it's a must-see and an eventual must-own, but it's a bit of a mess if I am honest.

Overall score 4.5/5

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Thursday, December 27, 2012

The Birds - Classic Hitchcock on Blu-ray

The Birds (1963)
Horror, Thriller, 119 minutes
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Starring Rod Taylor, Tippi Hedren, Jessica Tandy and Suzanne Pleshette

The Film 4.5/5

The recent release of The Hitchcock Masterpiece Collection on Blu-ray prompted me to revisit some of the best films in the set. I have always liked The Birds because I saw it as a child and it has stuck with me over the years. It's interesting viewing such films again with a critical eye, rather than as a young boy who just needed to be entertained.

There are frequent spoilers ahead, so stop reading now if you haven't yet seen the film.

Like Psycho, The Birds starts off with a light tone, as Hitchcock leads us to believe that the film will develop into a romantic comedy. I admire this approach because it's realistic. People would be acting normally a few days before a disaster or a terrifying turn of events. So you can expect to see the main characters introduced at the start of the film, and you'll see them flirt and develop a mutual attraction. This paves the way for Melanie Daniels' (Hedren) subsequent actions as she drives to Bodega Bay to deliver a gift for Mitch Brenner's (Taylor) daughter, Cathy (Veronica Cartwright).

If Hitchcock had decided to make the entire film a romantic comedy, I'm sure he would have done a good job. There's a depth present that doesn't exist in most examples from that genre. The dialogue gives us important insights into the characters, as well as supplying some of the exposition for the basic plot. We learn that Melanie is rich and works several jobs on different days of the week. She seems to have a wild, impulsive streak, and that fits her actions when she decides to visit Mitch. She also lies often, although never in a malicious way. Mitch is playful when he interacts with Melanie, but we soon learn that he is dependable in a crisis.

Melanie is also resourceful, and we see her charter a boat and use it to approach Mitch's house unobserved. The first indication that the world might not be idyllic comes when Melanie is attacked by a gull as she is returning the boat. The scene is so out of place because there hasn't been any suggestion that the film will be anything but fun up to that point, and it seems all the more shocking for it.

The events begin to turn darker in tone, and the pace increases from the moment of the initial attack. Other people begin to report attacks, and we witness several instances of unusual behavior by the birds. This is exactly the kind of novel that Stephen King might write; the world is apparently normal, but one thing is out of place. What would you do if you witnessed similar behavior from birds or small animals? It's so unexpected that it can be quite frightening in places. There's no campy humor to relieve the tension like that found in many modern horror movies. Hitchcock slowly increases tension throughout the film, without ever explaining why the birds are behaving in such an odd way.

I have always enjoyed seeing what happens when events cause society to begin to break down. What lengths would you go to to keep yourself or your family safe, or to provide food when it was scarce? The story takes place over a couple of days, so there's no serious breakdown of order in The Birds, but we do see how people start to band together and take care of each other.

The film was made in 1963, so you can't expect the special effects to be as convincing as modern techniques would allow. The bird effects are a combination of puppets, machines, and a few live birds, using a blue screen to insert them into the action. The special effects earned an Oscar nomination at the time, so try to forgive the somewhat dated feel.

As usual, Hitchcock assembled a strong cast. Rod Taylor and Tippi Hedren are convincing as potential romantic partners, and both give good performances as their characters encounter stressful situations. Mrs. Brenner (Tandy) is an important character too. She's reluctant to embrace Melanie's arrival and fears that her son Mitch may abandon her at some point. There's one particularly good scene in which Melanie talks to Mrs. Brenner and tries to allay her fears about the birds. You can sense some level of acceptance from Mrs. Brenner, although she can't decide whether she actually likes Melanie.

One of the best scenes occurs outside the town's school, where Annie (Pleshette) is teaching a class. She makes the children sing, while Melanie waits outside to collect Cathy. In typical Hitchcock fashion, we see one or two birds landing behind Melanie. She's unaware of their presence until she turns and sees hundreds of them. She comes to a decision and goes inside to warn Annie of the potential problem. This leads to one of the most dramatic sequences in the film as the children leave the school.

The Birds is elevated above the level of most horror films for several reasons: The characters are real people with genuine fears, the dialogue means something, the acting is strong, and the audience is given time to absorb the danger of a situation rather than being bombarded with gory or shocking scenes. The ending (intentionally) doesn't completely resolve the story, but it leaves us with a sense of optimism.

With the exception of the song sung by the children at the school, there is no score in the entire film. It reminds me of The Mist in that way, and I think the scenes contain more tension because we make up our own minds about how to feel, rather than having the music inform us that there is danger or a scary moment approaching.

Most of the whimsical scenes happen early in The Birds. Hitchcock's cameo is impossible to miss, and when somebody whistles at Melanie, it's a reference to a TV ad in which she first caught the attention of Hitchcock. By the end of the film, you'll feel as if you have been through a grueling emotional journey. It's a journey well-worth taking. It doesn't even matter why the birds were behaving so strangely, or whether their behavior was only present in Bodega Bay, or more widespread.

As for the Blu-ray, it's a mixed bag. The DTS-HD Master Audio Mono track enhances the experience considerably. The sound of fluttering wings is particularly effective. However, the picture quality is disappointing. While some of the brighter scenes do show good detail, far too many of the shots appear soft. It appears that Tippi Hedren's close-ups were intentionally softened, in a way similar to the female characters on the original Star Trek show. As for the effects, the additional information offered by the Blu-ray transfer highlights some of the weaker shots. This is probably as good as it's going to get for a long time, and I do recommend that you upgrade, but I'm still a little disappointed.

Overall score 4/5

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See where The Birds ranks among my Top 10 horror films.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

The Fitzroy - Success! You did it.

I just wanted to take a moment to update the progress of The Fitzroy fundraiser project for those of you who have been following through Twitter and here on my blog.

The great news is the £60,000 target has been reached! The fund currently stands at £61,363 with 25 hours to go. You can still contribute, and help make the film even better over at Kickstarter.

Update: The final total was £72,171.

The project has also been nominated at Indiewire and is battling three other films for the title of Project of the Month. Your vote would be appreciated there too.

Thanks to everyone who contributed by donating or spreading the word on Twitter.

Let's hope that the film is fantastic. Congratulations to the whole team.

General: @the_fitzroy
Producer James Heath: @jamesjheath
Producer Liam Garvo: @lgarvo
Director Andrew Harmer: @andrewharm
Head of press Rebecca Wilson: @BecsGW 

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Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The Fitzroy - One final push

If you have been following my blog, you'll know that I have written a few articles about the progress of The Fitzroy's fundraiser over at Kickstarter. The aim is to reach £60,000 by December 23rd at 1pm ET, and the current total stands at £53,274.

There are various levels and different incentives available depending on your contribution. If you donate just £1, it would still help the team reach its overall goal. If you feel more generous, so much the better. The success of a campaign such as this depends on marketing and the support of people like us. If Christmas has left you broke, your tweets and retweets can still make a difference. Please consider doing whatever you are able to do.

What is The Fitzroy?

To see a full explanation, please take a look at my original post.

If the target isn't met on time, all of the money will be returned. It would be a shame to get this close without going over the top.

Pledges of £100 or more will get you a credit on IMDB, so you'll be immortalized and know that you helped an independent film see the light of day.

Here are the team's Twitter details if you want to help promote the film over the remaining three days.

Here's a message from The Fitzroy team:

For any other aspiring filmmakers out there, I'm going to share director Andrew Harman's experience with the Kickstarter fundraiser.

Thanks for listening.

The five things filmmakers can learn from Kickstarter (and vice versa The five things Kickstarter creators can learn from filmmakers). By a filmmaker in the middle of a campaign!

Hello, I’m Andrew Harmer, the writer-director of the Fitzroy. Right up front I want to say we are currently slap bang in the thick end of a Kickstarter campaign.

Here’s the elevator pitch for the film.

The Fitzroy is a live action black comedy set in an alternative post-apocalyptic 1950’s. The world is covered in a poisonous gas and the last place for a traditional seaside holiday is The Fitzroy hotel; an abandoned submarine just of Margate.

This list isn’t necessarily the five things we have done, but it is the five things we would do (or be prepared for) if we started over again! Kickstarter, like film making, is a constant learning curve and this list might well change by the end of the campaign.

1) Tell the most interesting story.
You only really get one shot at a Kickstarter campaign or making a film. Sure you might do another one or another dozen, but then a bus might also hit you! So you better make this one count and make it the best it can be.

And that means telling the best story you can.

A film has to be the very best ‘version’ of that story you can possibly tell. The most interesting, dramatic and honed story possible.  Nobody want’s the B plots to be more interesting than your focus, so make sure you are telling the most interesting story.

The same goes for a Kickstarter campaign. You need to hook people into your campaign and to do that you need a great story (as well as a great product). And I don’t just mean the story you are selling, I mean the story behind the project. YOUR story. Your struggles, the adventure you have been on to get to this point. Is your idea based on a life altering brush with death? Did you witness a moment of kindness between an old man and his wife on the bus while riding the bus to work? It doesn’t matter what it is, just make sure it’s interesting and told the best way possible.

2) Be yourself.
Let your personality shine. I like films where I can ‘see’ the personalities of the filmmakers. I don’t always like those personalities, but I would much prefer to see an idiosyncratic film than a pixel-pushing blockbuster with no heart. I truly believe the soul of a film comes from the people who make it. While it is being made, it absorbs the personality and characteristics of the director (if they want it to). And I want to see that. Film is a personal experience - a conversation between the viewer and the director.

Same goes for Kickstarter, but to an even larger degree. The old adage ‘people invest in people’ is true. You have to put yourself out there. It’s scary but you have to share your passion, fears and hopes. Sure you might end up looking like a fool, but if you don’t put yourself out there people will just turn off. But word of warning – don’t try to be something you’re not. If you’re funny be funny, but if you are not don’t even try. Cool and hip? That’s fine, but if you aren’t, don’t force it. People can smell it, and it stinks. No bullshit. Just be yourself and people will engage with you.

3) Do it quick.
Okay this is straightforward. Kickstarter is on the web so you don’t have long to tell your story. Minutes, if you are lucky, but seconds in reality. So you better make your page accessible, clear, and your pitch video SHORT and to the point.

Same goes for the film (unless you’re Terrence Malick) edit, edit, edit. Cut the fat and edit that script so it’s tighter than a drum. All through the film and into post production, if it doesn’t move the story on then it goes. Don’t waste people’s time.

Word of warning though don’t jump the gun and rush head first in to it. With both Kickstarter and films make sure you are ready, that everything is prepared. And even if you think it is – it probably isn’t. Do it quick, but make sure you are prepared.

­4) Know your audience and engage with them.
Kickstarter is social, very social. It is a direct link between creators and their audience and in my humble opinion a very powerful tool. But before you start a campaign you must identify the audience you are targeting. This could be fairly obvious, your family and friends, people with ipods, hardcore gamers, Teddy Ruxpin fans. Whatever your audience, you need to identify them, find them and engage with them.

Filmmakers need to do the same thing. There’s not a one size fits all film. Everyone has different tastes and yes you can try to create a film that appeals to as many people as possible and the mass market. But I prefer films that are aimed at… well… me and my tastes. There is a distinct risk when trying to appeal to everyone that you can water down a story. Be specific and know your audience. 

      5) Take it seriously and have respect. 

Both Kickstarter and filmmaking are, at the end of the day, businesses, and you are asking for people’s time and money. That is not to be taken lightly. Sure you are hopefully giving back to them in the form of entertainment or in the case of Kickstarter some sort of reward. When people give you their hard earned money you have a responsibility, a contract to deliver on your promises and work your boney ass off to make sure you do.

If I can tell someone has put their heart and soul into a project or a film it means a lot to me as an audience member and it pays dividends. 

6) Be flexible and learn to adapt. 

Just like this list! It was meant to be five and we end up with six? It’s not a problem, just not what I was expecting when I started writing. It took me by surprise. Your Kickstarter project is an organic beast­, it is going to change and develop as the campaign progresses. It is going to throw you some curve balls, stuff you planned will fail and other avenues and opportunities will suddenly appear. You can’t let the setbacks knock you, you just have to keep moving forward and be open to any new possibilities.

I can’t think of anything that is more applicable than that to filmmaking! Be flexible and make it work.

So that’s it, that’s what I have learnt so far, and who knows what is around the corner? Hopefully we can reach our target and make an awesome film. If I heed my own advice, we just might!


General: @the_fitzroy 

Producer James Heath: @jamesjheath

Producer Liam Garvo: @lgarvo

Director Andrew Harmer: @andrewharm

Head of press Rebecca Wilson: @BecsGW 

Tuesday, December 18, 2012


Ponyo (2008)
Animation, Adventure, Family, 101 minutes
Directed by Hayao Miyazaki
Starring the voices of Noah Cyrus, Frankie Jonas, Tina Fey, Liam Neeson, Matt Damon, Cate Blanchett, Cloris Leachman, Lily Tomlin and Betty White (US dub)

I am overwhelmed with emotion as I sit here contemplating what to write about Ponyo. That might sound silly, but it's true. Here is an animated film which focuses on two children who are about 5-years-old, but the story works for any adult who is open to being moved by its charming characters. To be precise, one of the children begins life as a fish, before undergoing a transformation.

Director Hayao Miyazaki is some kind of magician. If you have ever seen My Neighbor Totoro, Spirited Away, or Princess Mononoke, you'll know what to expect from Ponyo. It's closest in feel to Totoro because of the ages of the main characters. Miyazaki's animations look like watercolor paintings rather than the 3D worlds found in Pixar's releases, but although they are less real, they have more warmth and heart than the world's second-best animation studio. I don't say that lightly.

If you're put off by the title, or the fact that the film was made in Japan, set aside those fears immediately. The Blu-ray comes with the original Japanese dub (although only in 5.1 Dolby Digital), and an HD dub from Disney for the US market featuring actors you mostly already know.

Ponyo has a special place in my heart because it is the first Studio Ghibli title that I ever bought. I had borrowed one or two before from my local library, but this first glimpse of Miyazaki's work in HD is something I will never forget. The experience begins with five minutes of action without any dialog, and the colors, imagination, movement, and sheer beauty of the animation will take your breath away. If Kubrick had made an animated film, the first five minutes might look similar.

After the initial sequence, we meet Sosuke (Jonas). He's a small boy who discovers something while he's playing by the beach; it turns out to be Ponyo (Cyrus), who he mistakes for a goldfish. She's trapped in a discarded bottle, so he helps her break free. When he cuts his finger in the process, she licks the wound and heals him. Yes, Ponyo is a magical creature. The taste of human blood changes her nature. Sosuke takes care of her and keeps her in a bucket, but she is later returned to the ocean.

Ponyo's undersea world is just as fascinating as the one above. Her father, Fujimoto (Neeson), is some kind of wizard who makes elixirs and helps keep nature in balance. He doesn't trust humans and fears for Ponyo's safety, so he's reluctant to allow her to leave her home. What he doesn't know is that Ponyo has come to love Sosuke, and wants to transform herself into a human girl so that she can be with him.

The two most common complaints I have heard about the film are that it is intended for small children and the story is hard to follow. I have never had trouble following the plot, and I think it will work for anyone who doesn't dismiss it as being too childish without even seeing it. This is a film for parents as well as children.

Miyazaki is an incredible study of human nature and knows exactly how to depict emotion in his drawings. I would say that it's almost impossible to watch without being moved in a positive way. Like Totoro, the story takes place in a world in which people care about each other. There are no villains of any kind. The story relies on events to drive it, and it's never boring. Notice how supportive Sosuke's mother (Fey) is when he tells her that he's rescued a fish and that she has turned into a girl, or the respect that Sosuke has for his elders. There are a lot of good messages here for children (and adults).

I want to mention two more scenes before I stop talking about the plot. The first is one of the purest expressions of joy I have ever witnessed in a film, and shows Ponyo running along on top of the waves as she tries to reach Sosuke. Look at the expression on her face. She only has one thought, and it's driven by love. The other scene shows Ponyo and Sosuke recovering indoors after being soaked in a storm. It's meaning might not be immediately apparent, but if you have ever been cold or wet, remember how good it felt to be warmed by a meal and a hot drink. Miyazaki includes these scenes because every human being can identify with such feelings. Instead of being bombarded by action and conflict, we are shown a world in which real things happen, and the scenes are stronger because of it.

Ponyo is a magical story. It's hard to watch without breaking into a grin, and that feeling lasts for the duration of the film. If you decide to watch it and find that it touches you in the same way, I urge you to check out Miyazaki's entire catalog if you haven't already done so.

The Blu-ray presentation is excellent. The image can't be faulted and the US dub sounds great. The only tiny criticism is that the Japanese dub is not lossless, but at least it is present for those who insist on seeing films in their original language.

Overall score 5/5

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Monday, December 17, 2012

Studio Ghibli Desktop Wallpaper

If you're a regular visitor to my blog, you'll know that I love everything by Studio Ghibli. So I decided to pay tribute by putting together some desktop wallpaper featuring my favorite Ghibli titles. It's 1680 x 1050.

What do you think?

Can you name the 12 movies?

How many have you seen?

Click on the image to enlarge.

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Saturday, December 15, 2012

Help me choose a Twitter header

I've been staring at my blank Twitter profile for weeks, and it's starting to bug me. As a result, I've put together four headers with moments from some of my favorite films (above). Which one do you prefer?

Can you name the 27 films from which the images were taken?

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Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Top 10 Directors (English Language)

Top 10 Directors (English Language)

When I first became interested in movies as a kid, I used to look forward to certain genres more than others. Science fiction and superhero movies were firm favorites at that early stage. As I got older, I began to look for my favorite actors, such as Tom Hanks, Denzel Washington, or Bruce Willis. Now that I am all grown up, I look for upcoming movies by my favorite directors. I find this is the best guide of all as many directors produce movies that are similar in tone or style.

What names would make my list of favorite directors? It's actually very difficult to name just ten, even with my somewhat limited knowledge of film history. To make things easier, I have decided to make two lists; the first will focus on English language movies, while the second will consist of directors who make films in a foreign language. To help me even more, I'm listing them alphabetically rather than ranking them in order of preference.

Should I include directors who have impacted me with one or two great films, or should there be a minimum requirement of four or five titles? I decided to go with a minimum of four, so that rules out Frank Darabont, even though The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile are both ranked in my overall Top 10. The majority of the people on this list have been responsible for ten or more films, but there are exceptions.

Other directors who just missed out include Woody Allen, Steven Spielberg, David Fincher, Sidney Lumet, Tony Scott, Ridley Scott, James Cameron and Ron Howard. I consider some of those as merely responsible for a large number of entertaining movies, while a few make wonderful films and might make my Top 10 one day as my knowledge increases.

So who is in?

Wes Anderson

Favorite films: All seven of them, but Rushmore, Moonrise Kingdom, and Fantastic Mr. Fox in particular.

Not every type of humor makes me laugh. Some even annoys me to the point where I can't watch it. But Anderson manages to hit the mark every time and balances drama with intelligent humor. He's fond of deadpan or bizarre comedy, but his films have a lot more to them than that. I identify with most of the themes, whether it is family, friendship, parenting, romance, or daring to be who you really are.

His films are also stylish, and feature vivid color palettes. I particularly like the choice to depict children as serious characters and making them sound like adults. Anderson often writes and works with Owen Wilson, while Bill Murray appears in all of his films. I'm not usually a fan of Murray, but I think he's produced his best work in his collaborations with Anderson.

Here's one of my favorite examples of Anderson's comic style:

Joel and Ethan Coen

Favorite films: Fargo, No Country for Old Men, Burn After Reading, Blood Simple, and The Big Lebowski.

I've only seen 12 Coen brothers movies, but I feel that I have enough information to determine how much I like their work. The first two films listed above are superb, but quite different. Fargo is fast-paced, despite containing a lot of dialogue. No Country for Old Men is a slow-burner with excellent performances from the three main characters.

The Coens aren't confined to one genre by any means, but each of their movies has a distinct offbeat style. The humor, when present, is smart and dry. You'll see Westerns, thrillers, comedies, heists, murders, and some movies which blend several genres.

Here's one of my favorite scenes from Fargo:

Clint Eastwood

Favorite films: Gran Torino, Million Dollar Baby, Absolute Power, and Hereafter.

I've been a fan of Eastwood since I saw Dirty Harry in the 1970s, but he may be even better as a director. I don't like everything he has directed, but the majority are worth seeing or owning.

His work in the past decade has become more reflective, and it's these films which appeal to me the most. Eastwood doesn't shy away from realism, and I would label many of his films as important, as well as entertaining. He tackles such weighty subjects as war, death, and racism, and usually draws good performances from his actors.

I like Eastwood as an actor too, and he seems to be capable of performing both roles effectively. I think the Oscar recognition is fully justified.

Here's a scene from Gran Torino:

Alfred Hitchcock

Favorite films: Vertigo, Psycho, The Birds, Rear Window, and Dial M for Murder.

Has there ever been a more influential director in the history of film? I remember many of my friends claiming that Hitchcock directed horror movies, but that's misleading. Psycho and The Birds contain horror elements, but most of his films are mysteries, often with a lot of suspense. Some can even be described as comedies.

I think it says a lot when something made in the 1940s or 1950s still stands up well today, and that's true of several Hitchcock classics. Fans must be delighted that so many of his films have been released on Blu-ray this year. If you haven't seen much of his work, there has never been a better opportunity.

Hitchcock managed to work with most of the best actors of the time during a career spanning more than half a century. James Stewart frequently appeared in his films, including two of the best (Vertigo and Rear Window). Hitchcock's plots often featured the MacGuffin, which were plot devices with no actual purpose other than to give the characters a motivation for their actions. Some of his films appeared to be one thing, such as a romance, and ended up being something else entirely.

With more than 50 features to his credit, Hitchcock's legacy is hard to measure. How many horror movies were influenced by Psycho, I wonder?

Here's a discussion where he explains how to create tension:

And here's a scene from The Birds:

Stanley Kubrick

Favorite films: 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Shining, Dr. Strangelove, Lolita, and The Killing.

Kubrick was reportedly a hard man to please, and he regularly demanded excessive takes to get something just right. One of the things I love about his 13-film career is his ability to switch genres. I believe he gave us the best science fiction film ever made, and the best horror film a few years later.

The Killing is a fun heist movie and was ahead of its time. He tackled war in an intelligent manner with Paths of Glory and Full Metal Jacket, and was not afraid to push the boundaries with efforts such as Lolita and Eyes Wide Shut, not to mention the dark comedy of Dr. Strangelove. There are plenty of people who would rank A Clockwork Orange or Barry Lyndon ahead of everything else, but I am not among them. However, I do admire the sheer audacity and ambition of both films.

Kubrick worked with Jack Nicholson, Peter Sellers, Malcolm McDowell, James Mason, Kirk Douglas, George C. Scott, and Sterling Hayden, among others.

It's easy to look back at some of these films now and miss just how innovative they were. 2001: A Space Odyssey is probably the best example. Can you remember, or have you investigated science fiction movies before Kubrick released his masterpiece? Most were laughable monster movies. There are a few exceptions, such as War of the Worlds, The Time Machine, and The Day the Earth Stood Still, but nothing that came before was even remotely similar to 2001. Think of the special effects, and how difficult they were to produce; the spinning pen in zero gravity, the image of Earth from space, an intelligent computer, the use of classical music, and the sparse dialogue. Kubrick even got the details right, correctly observing that there is no sound in space. Here was a science fiction film which treated its audience with respect. It's not an easy film to watch, but multiple viewings are worth the effort.

Here's a scene from 2001:

David Lynch

Favorite films: Mulholland Dr., Blue Velvet, Lost Highway, and The Elephant Man. I must also mention the best TV show ever made, Twin Peaks.

My favorite film of all time is Lynch's Mulholland Dr. and I could spend a week explaining why. I credit it as the film which transformed me from a casual watcher of movies to a passionate film buff. I started to think about what was on the screen, and the hidden meanings which weren't so apparent. Like most of Lynch's films, Mulholland Dr. won't work for everyone. He loves to play with dreams, alternate realities, and imagined events, so it can be a lot of work figuring out what's real.

Lynch is a craftsman. He is very particular about every little sound and the way something looks. If he can't find the right prop, he might just gather together some junk and build it himself. He's easily one of the most polarizing directors, and I often hear people complaining about how they will never have back those two hours of their life after seeing one of his films. The reason I continually champion his work is that those who have the kind of mind and personality required to dissect his stories often name them among their favorites.

If you own all of Lynch's movies, you'll know that he likes to work with the same actors at every opportunity. Regulars include Kyle McLachlan, Laura Dern, Jack Nance, Brad Dourif, Grace Zabriskie, and Harry Dean Stanton. Throughout most of his work, you'll hear the haunting sound of Angelo Badalamenti's music.

Lynch is weird, but in a good way. His films are mainly challenging, although The Elephant Man and The Straight Story offer more conventional experiences. Both are incredible studies of human nature.

One thing I love about Lynch's worlds is that they keep you off balance. Moments of tranquility can be interrupted by violence. Bizarre humor can be inserted at any moment, so you never know what is coming next, But on reflection, everything flows well and makes some kind of sense.

Here's a clip from Mulholland Dr. to illustrate my points:

Christopher Nolan

Favorite films: Memento, The Prestige, The Dark Knight, and Inception.

All of the four films listed above are memorable, but they are very different. Memento tells the story of a man who can no longer form any short term memories. He can remember everything up to one moment in his life, and nothing more. Nolan shows how he tries to function with this handicap, and puts the viewer in the position of the main character by telling the story in reverse. That may be hard to comprehend, but watch it and you'll understand what I mean.

Nolan also made a superhero trilogy which I can enjoy. That's high praise because I find the vast majority of movies in the genre forgettable and without substance. The Prestige takes us back in time and tells the story of rival magicians, while Inception tells a futuristic story which has five series of events happening at the same time, but all at different rates of speed. Throughout all this complexity, Nolan never loses his audience. His writing is intelligent, and he makes interesting films with incredible stories.

Actors who have worked with Nolan include Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Christian Bale, Guy Pearce, Al Pacino, Robin Williams, Leonardo DiCaprio, and many more of note.

I'm not sure whether we have seen the best that Nolan will ever produce, but I have enjoyed everything he's given us so far.

Here's a clip from Memento:

Jason Reitman

Favorite films: Up in the Air, Juno, Young Adult and Thank You for Smoking are all close to perfect.

This may be the most surprising name on my list, but I can't stop watching Reitman's films. It would be wrong to label them as comedies, because there is so much more to them, but comedy is certainly present in each film.

Up in the Air is my favorite George Clooney film, and contains Vera Farmiga's best performance to date. Anna Kendrick is also vital to the mix and the three play off one another to perfection. The dialogue is fast-paced and genuinely funny. Beneath the comedy, the subject matter is serious and relevant to the modern world.

Juno is another masterful blend of drama and comedy and includes a memorable performance from Ellen Page. Again, the dialogue is key, with the ability to make me laugh, or occasionally reflect more seriously on life. 
Young Adult and Thank You for Smoking don't quite reach the heights of Reitman's other two movies, but I love them all the same. Charlize Theron and Aaron Eckhart play their respective roles superbly. I'm looking forward to Reitman's next film, Labor Day, which arrives in 2013 and stars Kate Winslet.

I thought for a long time before deciding to include a director with just four full-length movies to his name, but I love them so much that it feels like the right choice.

An added bonus is that J. K. Simmons has a part to play in all four films.

Here's one of my favorite scenes from Up in the Air:

Martin Scorsese

Favorite films: Taxi Driver, The Departed, Goodfellas, Hugo, and Gangs of New York.

With more than 20 features to his credit, Scorsese has covered a lot of ground over the course of his career. Many of his films include stories about the Mafia or crime, but he's also created human interest stories in Raging Bull and Hugo. It must have been hard to go wrong working with Robert De Niro at the height of his career, but I think Scorsese was responsible for De Niro's best performances. Four of his films in the past 10 years feature Leonardo DiCaprio, and he also worked with Daniel Day-Lewis.

I like that Scorsese tried something new at this point in his career, so Hugo was an unexpected delight, telling the story of a forgotten filmmaker.

Scorsese creates gritty worlds for the most part, and I feel as if I am a part of them for the duration of the film. His style completely transports the viewer, in a similar way to that of David Lynch.

Here's one of my favorite scenes from The Departed:

Quentin Tarantino

Favorite films: Pulp Fiction, Kill Bill 1, Kill Bill 2, Jackie Brown, Inglourious Basterds, and Reservoir Dogs.

I hope Tarantino makes a lot more films, because I will happily buy anything that he's involved with. Even the weakest of the bunch, Death Proof, has enough redeeming qualities to make it worthy of a place in my collection.

Tarantino has a unique style. He's often accused of ripping off older movies, but that's totally unfair. Sure, he pays homage and references other movies frequently, but his style is all his own. He does things which simply shouldn't work, such as writing the names of characters next to them on the screen. He utilizes all kinds of techniques, changing aspect ratios, switching to animation or black and white, and messing with the traditional linear story structure. Whatever he does, I love it.

As well as incorporating bizarre and intelligent humor into his stories, his use of music has to be mentioned. He has the ability to perfectly match the music to the scene, whether it's the theme at the beginning of Reservoir Dogs, Bowie in Inglourious Basterds, Bang Bang or the theme from Twisted Nerve in Kill Bill, or the unforgettable Stuck in the Middle scene in Reservoir Dogs. Other directors do it well, but Tarantino is a master when it comes to choosing the right song.

Hitchcock would probably appreciate the opening scene in Inglourious Basterds, where the tension is increased during a 20-minute conversation. We know that it's going to end badly for someone. If that's not Tarantino's best scene, then it would have to be Christopher Walken's watch scene in Pulp Fiction or the conversation between Walken and Dennis Hopper in True Romance (which Tarantino wrote, but didn't direct).

If there was a machine that could tell everyone their ideal career in life, it would tell Tarantino to keep doing exactly what he is doing. I can't think of anyone who is more enthusiastic about their occupation. I imagine I'll be in a cinema on Christmas Day, watching the first showing of Django Unchained. Genre has no meaning when it comes to Tarantino; he has created a genre of his own.

Here's the watch scene from Pulp Fiction:

That concludes my list of favorite (English language) directors. Thanks for making it to the end if you're still reading. I'll rest my brain for a while and tackle foreign language films in the coming days.

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