Archive for August, 2012

With English director Tony Scott’s passing on Sunday Hollywood has lost a powerhouse director/producer and a much revered colleague. Brother of Ridley Scott, Tony Scott began his career in television commercials alongside his brother, before making the leap into Hollywood feature films with vampire flick The Hunger starring David Bowie, Catherine Deneuve and Susan Sarandon. In 1986 Scott jettisoned himself to success with Top Gun and continued to make a name for himself in action with Beverly Hills Cop II, Days of Thunder and the Tarantino penned True Romance (arguably the apex of his career). Scott made testosterone-driven, yet beautiful films. He worked well (and often) with actors including Tom Cruise, Denzel Washington, Gene Hackman and Christopher Walken creating action films with real character and heart. Most recently he had directed Unstoppable and produced several television series, as well as the ambitious, albiet divisive sci-fi Prometheus with his brother Ridley.

THE HUNGER (1983)

TOP GUN (1986)

TRUE ROMANCE (1993)

ENEMY OF THE STATE (1998)

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Recently hailed as the ‘Greatest Film of All Time’ by the 2012 Sight & Sound critics poll, Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo maintains a near untouchable status among films. The film possesses undeniably rich visual themes, a dexterous performance by James Stewart and a haunting one by Kim Novak, but truthfully it is not the finest film in Hitchcock’s canon.

Vertigo concerns John ‘Scottie’ Ferguson (James Stewart), a police detective, recently retired due to an incident in which his fear of heights lead to the death of another officer. Ferguson is hired by friend Gavin Elster (Tom Helmore), when Elster suspects that his wife Madeleine (Kim Novak) is obsessed with a dead woman. Scottie begins to follow the woman, but all is not what it seems as Hitch begins to pull the rug from under us… several times.

While Scottie fears that Madeleine may be suffering delusions of a deeply self-destructive nature, he does not recognize the transformation that he himself is undergoing. The film excels at portraying the descent into madness that an ordinary person can suffer; here Jimmy Stewart evokes something truly frightening.

But the film begins to overstay its welcome, particularly considering that Psycho, The Birds and Rear Window clock in around ten to twenty minutes shorter and are considerably more engaging as a result.

As a consequence of its length Vertigo actually feels thematically overloaded. Hitchcock’s masterful visual grasp of the sensation of vertigo is spectacular, but a craven interest in Christianity distracts from the central theme that involves descending physically and mentally.

Morbid it may be, but there is a sense at the end of Vertigo that the fate suffered by Scottie is not explored to its totality: given Hitchcock’s penchant for sadism this is particularly surprising. Also unlike in Psycho where Hitchcock’s icy wit leaves us feeling uneasy, the final scene of Vertigo actually distracts us from the key themes of the film.

Vertigo is certainly an intriguing film, it is a beautiful film, a suspenseful film and, despite its length, an entertaining film. However, contrary to what the critical elite may say, it is not and never will be the greatest film ever made.

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1. BADLANDS (DIR. TERRENCE MALICK. USA, 1973)

There are filmmakers, and then there is Terrence Malick. On the surface this is a fairly conventional road movie following two young lovers on a crime spree. But Malick subverts the story of murderer Charles Starkweather for his own purposes; this is a dreamy, timeless film that hints at abstract emotions that transcend mere happiness or sadness. With his beautifully photographed Hopperesque landscapes and mute characters, Malick gives us something otherworldly and genuinely odd.

2. PARIS, TEXAS (DIR. WIM WENDERS, USA/GERMANY, 1984)

A letter of both love and hate to America, German auteur Wenders perfects the road movie with his tale of Travis, a loner who seeks to reunite his estranged family and rediscover the American Dream. A clever distortion of both the American road movie and the Westerns of John Ford, Paris, Texas really soars as a piece of melodrama. Harry Dean Stanton’s movingly hangdog central performance holds the film together, while the final monologue is both heart breaking and cathartic.

3. ANDREI RUBLEV (DIR. ANDREI TARKOVSKY, RUSSIA, 1966)

Alongside Kubrick, Russian director Tarkovsky is perhaps the only filmmaker to really push cinema to its limits on a large scale. This epic film follows the tribulations of painter Andrei Rublev through a period of religious strife and violence. While some of Tarkovsky’s other works veered too much towards introspective worthiness, this film utilises the director’s inventive technical vision to his greatest heights. The opening balloon sequence and the pagans on the river count as two of the most extraordinary set pieces committed to film. Existentialism and technical vision collide with aplomb.

4. PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK (DIR. PETER WEIR, AUSTRALIA, 1975)

Once voted the greatest Australian film of all time, this Peter Weir film is arguably one of the most curious and beguiling works in history. Based on the disappearance of several schoolgirls on a mountain in 1900, the film revels in it’s languid, strange atmosphere and sugar coated visuals. Bravely, Weir never seeks to solve the case- but in this case, it doesn’t matter. Weir challenges the audience to consider the idea that sometimes there are no easy answers, that not everything in this world can be categorised and put into boxes.

5. COME AND SEE (DIR. ELEM KLIMOV, SOVIET UNION, 1985)

Francois Truffaut once said that all war films end up glamourising war, despite their best intentions. Come and See is one of the few films which genuinely challenges this theory. Set in Nazi occupied Belarus during WW2, the film follows the young Flyora as he seeks to evade the army which has killed his family. While most war films tend to lend an air of nobility to the fighting (cough Saving Private Ryan cough), Come and See shows wartime as it really is; a nightmare-ish hell where confusion and inhumanity reign. The film is redeemed as a genuine piece of art by the frequent touches of poetry, both in the vivid imagery and striking sound design. The shot of Flyora lying shellshocked by a dead cow will stay with you forever.

6.  THE HOLY MOUNTAIN (DIR. ALEJANDRO JODOROWSKY, MEXICO, 1973)

Once you’ve seen a Jodorowsky film, you’ll start to wonder how every other filmmaker is so bloody….mundane. Jodorowsky’s films touch on religion, sex and death, but it is the striking visuals and mind boggling set design which mark his work as cult gems. The baffling plot revolves around the ‘thief’ and his quest for immortality, leading to a series of wild adventures. If Dorothy had taken a tab of acid on her route down the Yellow Brick Road, this film would probably have been the result.

7. TRUST (DIR. HAL HARTLEY, USA, 1990)

Hal Hartley came to prominence in the late 80’s in US independent cinema, embarking on an inexplicably good run of films, like Scorsese/Coppola in the 70’s. His De Niro is Martin Donovan, a chiselled jawed, verbose actor who stars alongside the late, elfin-like Adrienne Shelly. The film follows Shelly as the brattish teenager who discovers she’s pregnant and homeless, and her chance meeting with Donovan, an older man undergoing his own existential crisis. Hal Hartley is extremely influenced by Godard and Bresson, even taking scenes wholesale, yet he is much warmer than Godard and funnier than Bresson. His films have often been compared to choreographed dance, where the characters waltz around each other in torment and lust, and in Trust we have his most defining film.

8. MAUVAIS SANG (DIR. LEOS CARAX, FRANCE, 1986)

Leos Carax is regarded as some kind of renegade in French cinema, with his films usually set around outsiders from society. Mauvais Sang, his second film revolves Alex (Denis Lavant), a prodigious lock picker who gets involved in a heist with Marc (Michel Piccoli) and his young lover Anna (Juliette Binoche). Tensions between the three of them grow as Alex begins to fall for Anna, and the film is essentially a romantic thriller. Denis Lavant is one of the most unusual actors around, his reptilian features and penchant for acrobatics and impromptu dance routines making him irresistible. Binoche has never been more radiant as Anna. Edited in a poetic, elliptical style, Mauvais Sang is a cult gem, full of vitality and life.

9. L’ HUMANITE (DIR. BRUNO DUMONT, FRANCE, 1999)

Bruno Dumont is another French filmmaker influenced by Bresson’s stark humanism and obsession with faith. Yet, Dumont has his own style influenced by his time as an industrial corporate film maker; static images of desolate Northern France and vivid cinematography give the impression of thereness. Pharaon De Winter is the detective of a small rural town where a young girl has been found murdered. A childlike man, De Winter struggles to solve the case, and all the time the audience is questioning his role in the film.  L’ Humanite deals with sex and violence in a non-judgemental, matter of fact way, and the film veers between tenderness and brutality with ease. A sinister, disquieting film yet strangely invigorating in it’s realness.

10. GUMMO (DIR. HARMONY KORINE, USA, 1997)

One of a handful of films that could have potentially hinted at a new direction for cinema. There is nothing quite like enfant terrible Korine’s debut, save perhaps his idol Herzog’s Even Dwarfs Started Small,which has a similarly scant plot and improvisational feel. Set in the fictional town of Xenia in small town America, the multi stranded film meanders through a series of vignettes of the distinctly dysfunctional inhabitants. Mixing pop culture as diverse as Roy Orbison and Sleep, naturalistic performances and moments of poetry, Gummo is a singular oddity that lingers in the mind long after the end credits. While some have labelled it exploitative, there is a sense of compassion and genuine affection running through the film from Korine.

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Each decade since 1952 Sight & Sound, the official magazine of the BFI, have run a poll to find the Greatest Films of All Time. This year marks a dramatic change after decades of consensus; Vertigo has taken the top spot from Citizen Kane. Inspired by the poll we at Reflections have assembled our own 10 Greatest Films of All Time. Enjoy our greatest & message us with your own:

1. BERLIN ALEXANDERPLATZ (DIR. R.W FASSBINDER, WEST GERMANY, 1980)

Berlin Alexanderplatz is the artistic and technical pinnacle of R.W Fassbinder’s career and a monumental piece of cinema. The film tells of ex-con Franz Biberkopf (played beautifully by Günter Lamprecht), struggling to go straight in pre-Nazi Germany. Running at an epic 15 and a half hours, the film never loses focus, vigorously translating Alfred Döblin’s source novel thanks to Fassbinder’s lifelong obsession with the material. Berlin Alexanderplatz showcases Fassbinder’s masterful directing skill, using complex camera movements, long takes and intensely demanding performances; this owes to his work in melodrama and crime thrillers. The film is particularly extraordinary for its intellectual use of contemporary music, which acts as a sinister critique of the German society of the day.

2. M (DIR. FRITZ LANG, GERMANY, 1931)

While Fassbinder’s Berlin Alexanderplatz was about the Weimar Republic, Fritz Lang’s was made during the period. The film tells the story of a manhunt for child killer Hans Beckert (Peter Lorre). Lang made the film later than his remarkable sci-fi Metropolis, but prior to his move to Hollywood. The film develops the seminal German Expressionist style, moving it from the crude stylings of Murnau’s Nosferatu, towards film noir like The Third Man and offerings as unique as Night of the Hunter. Lang’s direction is brilliantly haunting, utilising wide shots, extreme angles, baroque mise-en-scène and terrifyingly gloomy lighting. Its influence resonates throughout cinema history; the films of Christopher Nolan and David Fincher would certainly not be the same without it.

3. MAN WITH A MOVIE CAMERA (DIR. DZIGA VERTOV, SOVIET UNION, 1929)

While early German cinema lead the way in terms of film lighting and miss-en-scène, Russian cinema of the Soviet era pushed the possibilities of editing. Dziga Vertov’s Soviet propaganda piece Man With A Movie Camera is perhaps the greatest feat of editing in cinema history, developing montage far beyond the Kuleshov effect. While the revolutionary Soviet films of Sergei Eisenstein (StrikeBattleship Potemkin) were undeniably powerful, Man With A Movie Camera achieves timelessness because it is not confined by the subject matter of Bolshevik revolution; it is a celebration of life, work and ultimately cinema itself.

4. AGUIRRE: WRATH OF GOD (DIR. WERNER HERZOG, WEST GERMANY, 1972)

Werner Herzog’s Aguirre: Wrath of God deserves status as one of, if not the most ambitious low budget film ever made. Shooting on the Amazon River with Klaus Kinski for only $370,000 US dollars, Herzog created a film that plays more like a hallucination than a story. Aguirre tells the story of Spanish conquistador Lope de Aguirre (Kinski) as he leads an army of soldiers in search of El Dorado, the mythic city of gold. Herzog’s ability to capture the power of nature is on display here, as is his ability to harness the treacherous genius of Klaus Kinski. Aguirre may not be Herzog’s most polished film, but it captures his singular vision and power of will at its most intense; it truly is a display of cinematic greatness.

5. THE HOLY MOUNTAIN (DIR. ALEJANDRO JODOROWSKY, MEXICO, 1973)

Both a spiritual journey and a journey into the heart of cinema, Alejandro Jodorowsky’s The Holy Mountain is one of the most mind blowing experiences ever committed to film. The film revolves roughly around a petit thief, who bares a startling resemblance to Jesus, who embarks on a quest for gold. The thief’s quest ultimately and unexpectedly leads the film’s audience to enlightenment; it must be seen to be believed. The Holy Mountain is a feast of symbolism, which makes for a film as baffling as it is beautiful. Disciples of Jodorowksy will find the film the most rewarding, but this is ‘cinema for initiates’ and cinephiles would do well to acquaint themselves with Jodorowsky’s world.

6. REAR WINDOW (DIR. ALFRED HITCHCOCK, USA, 1958)

Like The Holy Mountain Hitchcock’s Rear Window is also a film about cinema. Where Jodorowsky’s film is a journey to enlightenment, Hitchcock’s is an exploration of obsessive voyeurism. Telling the story of an injured photojournalist, who suspects a murder in a in the flat opposite his, Rear Window displays Hitch at the height of his directing powers. The master of suspense amps up the drama for nearly two hours using point of view shots, long lenses and tracking shots to increase tension, all while James Stewart is confined to a wheelchair. Rear Window is not as flamboyant as Vertigo or as shocking as Psycho, but it captures Hitchcock’s profound urge to observe at its most essentially entertaining.

7. TASTE OF CHERRY (DIR. ABBAS KIAROSTAMI, IRAN, 1997)

Abbas Kiarostami’s cinema is that of a true humanist. Telling the story of Mr Badii, a suicidal man looking for a way to die, Taste of Cherry plays out like a list of reasons to live. The film relies on Kiarostami’s key motif of driving and the director frames his protagonist’s journey with optimistic simplicity; flocks of birds, winding roads and the sunset outside of Tehran are captured with long takes, on long lenses. The film was dogged by technical trouble after the footage from the final scenes was lost, but Kiarostami inserted digital video that he had filmed while shooting the final scenes. The end plays out like a coda celebrating the vitality of life found in filmmaking, while pioneering Kiarostami’s future explorations with digital technology.

8. COME AND SEE (DIR. ELEM KLIMOV, SOVIET UNION, 1985)

Elem Klimov’s Come and See is the greatest anti-war film ever created. A statement of sheer horror, this film has a hallucinatory quality akin to Aguirre: Wrath of God. The film tells of Flyora a young boy who joins the Soviet Army to fight the Nazis in WW2 and in the process ages dramatically both mentally and physically. The film is shot with a rugged handheld style reminiscent of neo-realism; this underplays any potential for Hollywood-style glamorisation. Klimov emphasises the horror of war when Flyora sees a church full of people burned alive by the SS and a sculpture of Hitler created from a human skeleton. Come and See contains images that burn long into the memory, it is cinema at its purest and most powerful. 

9. THE THIN BLUE LINE (DIR. ERROL MORRIS, USA, 1989)

The documentary The Thin Blue Line is a rare example of a film that genuinely changed the course of history. Director Errol Morris explores the legal case of Randall Adams, a man falsely accused for the murder of policeman Robert W. Wood in Dallas, Texas. The film unfolds like an inquiry by a private investigator, yet it also explores the dubious nature of memory through cinematic reconstructions shot in the style of a film noir. Morris’ interviews are unparalleled in their depth of information and quality of delivery; this ultimately lead to Adams being acquitted of the crime, following twelve years in prison and a stint on death row.

10. LE MEPRIS (DIR. JEAN-LUC GODARD, FRANCE, 1963)

Jean-Luc Godard’s Le Mépris (Contempt) is the greatest film ever made about filmmaking. Michel Piccoli stars as Paul, a screenwriter working on an adaptation of The Odyssey at Cinecittà; he is divided between the artistic ambitions of his director, the legendary Fritz Lang (Lang playing himself) and his insolent American producer (Jack Palance). In the opening scene Godard captures the relationship between Paul and his wife Camille (Bridget Bardot) with an authentic intimacy, whilst simultaneously mocking the producer’s demand for nudity as Camille talks in detail about her body parts. Godard is at the mischievous height of his directing powers with Le Mépris; the film is a radical meeting of commercial and subversive filmmaking, but this meeting defines the great French director best.

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