Film.com Staff December 30, 2013
So we wrote a few thousand posts this year. A lot of them were reviews, a few of them were lists, even fewer of them were casting rumors, and only one of them was a shamelessly self-congratulatory look back at our own work (hint: you’re reading it now).
Below are the 15 most popular articles we ran this year, as determined by the number of Facebook “likes” they received. It’s an imperfect metric for several different reasons – “likes” don’t necessarily correlate to page views, and we assembled this from memory, as there’s no quick way to rank our posts by “likes” – nor do “likes” accurately reflect our best work, though of course it could be argued that there is some occasional overlap. Think of this as a sampling of the posts that caught on, a cogent if imperfect snapshot of the year that was.
“As overwhelming as To’s work can be, watching his movies proves an endlessly rewarding task, not to mention a routinely entertaining one. Of the 49 films listed below, nearly all are watchable. Be they action films, rom-coms or even works of sui generis invention, these films are among the most entertaining of the last 25 years, and more than one deserves the label of ‘masterpiece.'”
“Worst-of lists are always harder than best-ofs. A critic is always striving to see every buzzed-about or even just intriguing film possible, while anyone who does not explicitly have to see ‘Grown Ups 2’ will likely go to the grave sufficiently pleased to live in at least some modicum of ignorance. Thus the list of any critic typically not on staff at a paper that assigns reviews for everything will invariably be top-heavy with good and great films and erratic when it comes to the nadir of one’s yearly viewing. But no individual’s list can or should ever be taken as anything but subjective, and the best ones aim for something more idiosyncratic than an established canon of masterpieces or heaping piles.”
13.) Review: ’47 Ronin’
“Possibly the second-worst thing to happen to Japan so far this century, ’47 Ronin’ is at once both a miserable movie and an extraordinary monument to how miserable the movie industry can be. An inherently problematic attempt to graft a gaijin savior onto the most famous episode of Japanese folklore, this latest example of Chushingura has been a notoriously troubled project from the beginning, when Universal provided director Carl Erik Rinsch with an absurd budget of $175 million for his first feature, only to see that figure balloon even higher as the film suffered a number of difficulties and delays during post-production. While it’s always prickly and often unwise to view a movie through the lens of its making, ’47 Ronin’ was stitched together with the seamless precision of Frankenstein’s monster, its various sutures so carelessly visible that the circumstances of the film’s creation are almost impossible to untangle from the film itself.”
“Wong Kar-Wai is known for making some of the most ravishingly beautiful films of all time, his step-printed romances bounding from ancient China to the year 2046 to illustrate the beauty of a broken heart. Given the singular wooziness of his images, it’s no surprise that fans the world over have been inspired to create their own artistic tributes to their favorite Wong films (which overwhelmingly appear to be ‘Chungking Express’ and ‘In the Mood for Love’ and its sequel. With ‘The Grandmaster’ set to open in the United States this weekend, we scoured the internet to collect our favorite tributes to these unique movies, presented in chronological order. Please click the image to be directed to the artist’s site.”
“Perfectionist, tinkerer, victim of his opaque sui generis approach to cinematic storytelling – however you slice it, when it comes to the difficulties of getting his vision onto movie screens intact, this isn’t Wong Kar-Wai’s first rodeo. The first time that the prodigiously talented Hong Kong auteur tried his hand at a film with wuxia elements, it took him nearly 14 years to arrive at a definitive cut (‘Ashes of Time’ was completed in 1994, but the sands didn’t settle until 2008 when Wong produced the slightly shorter ‘Ashes of Time Redux’). Needless to say, it’s no surprise that his latest and most outwardly ambitious work – a genuine historical epic five years in the making – has emerged into the world with its ink still wet.”
“It’s hard to pin down exactly when it happened, but at a certain point in the cinema’s ongoing digital revolution it became easier to make a movie than it is to get it seen. That’s a sweeping and reductive generalization, of course, but what would the introduction to a Film.com list be without one of those? The truth of the matter is that, between the disparate poles of ‘Gravity’ and ‘Leviathan’. the impossible image is all but extinct. Technology has caught up with (and likely eclipsed) the scope of our vision, and filmmakers have never been so empowered to confront their imaginations and realize their stories in one form or another. The inevitable result is that we’re living in a golden age of cinema so clear and ubiquitous that it can be difficult to even notice, the film festivals and streaming channels of the world absolutely saturated with brilliant offerings from established directors and undiscovered talents alike.”
“Woody Allen is my favorite filmmaker. Full stop. There are dozens tied for second place, but he’s the one on top. I love his comedies, I love his dramas and I especially love when the two drift into one another.
If a clip from a lesser-loved Woody Allen movie comes on and someone rightly asks ‘who lives like that?’ I answer, ‘people in Woody Allen movies do, that’s who.’ My emotional life remains fairly stable; I can live precariously through the tortured artists and the poisoned relationships of the higher tax-bracketed, as seen in (most of) his films. I love the Allen persona and I love the way he writes for women. I love the people with whom he collaborates – groundbreaking cinematographers like Gordon Willis and Darius Khondji, as well as his go-to production designer Santo Loquasto and costumer Jeffrey Kurland.”
“Filmmakers have understood the value of an unforgettable last shot since at least 1903, when Edwin S. Porter ended ‘The Great Train Robbery’ with a scene divorced from the main narrative in which one of the outlaws comes back from the grave, stares down the lens of the camera, and fires a couple of rounds directly at the audience. In many prints, that footage opened the film, but the fact that it’s since settled into its place at the end speaks volumes as to its profound effect as a coda. Like the final sentence of a novel, the closing image of a film has the power to color the entire narrative, echoing just a little bit louder than everything that has come before it. Unlike the final sentences of a novel, the last shot of a feature film has, in the medium’s brief lifespan, already acquired its own formal language, certain camera movements and musical cues (‘the camera cranes up, the soundtrack swells!’) having conditioned viewers to read some final shots in a different way than they do the hundreds of others that comprise the movie. There’s a unique weight to the last shot – a burden, but also a sense of infinite possibility, as though the cinema inherently realizes that its greatest potential doesn’t live on screen but rather in those who stare at them, the moment at which a movie hands its narrative off to a viewer one of the great cruxes of the medium’s power.”
“Creating the right opening scene may not always be the most difficult part of making a movie, but it’s invariably the most perverse. Every film ever made begins with the same sense of endless possibility, the infinite canvas of the universe at its disposal, and then — in a flash — limits it all to just. One. Thing.
In our current cinematic climate, opening scenes are more important than ever before. The theatrical experience has remained largely unchanged over the years, but since the advent of home video — be it Betamax or Blu-ray — most movies come with a built-in escape route. Whereas the dark confines of a theater inherently provides an immersive experience by blocking out the rest of the world, nowadays, most people have to actively deny the intrusions of the outside world in order to really get into a film — the onus is no longer on us to surrender ourselves to a movie so much as it is on the movie to actively keep everything else in our lives at bay.
Be that as it may, the mark of a great opening sequence is the same as it ever was: It has to grab you by the throat and insist that you don’t look away. So far as great beginnings are concerned, even the most seemingly benign examples are imbued with a certain violence, stealing you away down the rabbit hole with such force that you’re powerless to resist. The best opening scenes will seduce you into the world you see on screen, regardless of its kind or size.”
‘Spring Breakers’ stars a trio of immensely popular teen idols whose lucrative brand has clearly meant big business for the film. But it’s also unabashedly an arthouse film, one whose canny use of Disney icons is central to its deeper intentions; it so thoroughly deconstructs preconceptions that it wouldn’t much work without them. A major consequence of its motives—and in particular its desire to both relish and undermine certain cultural signifiers—is that its veneer of carefree spring breaking is pretty misleading, especially to audiences familiar with the stars but not with the director (whose most recent feature is called ‘Trash Humpers’).
“This was a lot of fun to cut together. While I don’t expect that you’ll agree with all of my choices (given that this is a ranked list of 25 films, it would be really strange if you did), I hope you enjoy watching this all the same. Thanks so much, and stay tuned to the end for a list of the music used and the 2013 films in which the songs appeared.
Headphones and high volume are strongly recommended. To see it bigger, either play it full screen or watch it on Vimeo.“
“Legendary graphic designer Saul Bass is rightly remembered for his incredible skill and seemingly unending creativity, a man who cared deeply about making things beautiful, even if no one else did. His work exists as a testament to the idea that good design can exist even in the most monetarily concerned places. From the late 1940’s until the early 1990’s, he created more than a dozen campaigns for films, with an even higher number dedicated to title sequences. Bass’ work was risky, his posters were largely stripped down affairs that focused and strengthened attention rather than overwhelmed and scattered it into a million pieces. Colors were few, but bold in their application. The text and imagery itself was often treated similarly to a logo or a symbol: strong, simple, memorable, metaphorical, and easily applied to any number of other graphic applications. Here is a gallery of every significant movie poster Saul Bass ever designed (absent are ones for which he is falsely credited, like ‘West Side Story’), including one for an Irvin Kershner film that never reached production.”
“For all of the difficulty that Guillermo del Toro has experienced in getting his projects off the ground, his imagination is famously restless and unquenchable. A gifted artist who’s as capable of bringing his visions to life with a pencil as he is with a camera, del Toro is known to first begin creating his film worlds in the pages of his sketchbooks (del Toro once left his ‘Pan’s Labyrinth’ notes in the back seat of a cab, and the loss might have killed the movie if not for the kind efforts of the cab driver to return the book). While most of the notes and illustrations that fill del Toro’s sketchbooks may never be available to the public, many pages have made their way to the web, and many more can be found in various books and on the Criterion Collection DVDs of ‘Cronos’ and ‘The Devil’s Backbone.’ Here, we’ve collected the images that we could find, a modest collection that nevertheless provides a thrilling glimpse into the mind of an extraordinary storyteller.”
“They say movies are like sausages: if you like them, you shouldn’t watch how they’re made, because it’s an ugly process that involves a lot of pigs’ anuses. But around here we disregard conventional wisdom and go behind the scenes of your favorite Hollywood productions, and also of ‘The Lone Ranger‘ (read our review of the film here). The NSA was kind enough to lend us their recording of the boardroom pitch meeting that led to this big-budget extravaganza, a transcript of which is copied below.”
“When it comes to adapting the wonderful world of Oz, Hollywood is, admittedly and regrettably, in a bit of a bind. All things Yellow Brick Road and Emerald City are so tightly linked to the 1939 ‘The Wizard of Oz’ that trying to venture back into L. Frank Baum’s mythology is treading on the memories of millions of fans. The film is such a massive piece of film iconography that it has become the definitive version of this tale, and outstripped the Baum book itself. It doesn’t matter that it’s a loose adaptation of Baum’s work, it is *the* adaptation, and any filmmaker itching to make a more authentic version has their hands permanently tied. The outcry – ‘How dare you remake The Wizard of Oz!’ – would be deafening, no matter how illogical the idea (‘Hamlet’ can survive a hundred versions, but not the adventures of Dorothy!).”
Categories: No CategoriesTags: 47 Ronin, Best last shots, Best opening scenes, Guillermo del toro, Oz: The Great and Powerful, Saul Bass, Spring Breakers, Top 50, Wong Kar-wai, Year in Review