6. Vanilla Sky (2001)
Likes: This is a remake of the Spanish film Open Your Eyes, in which Penelope Cruz also featured. The film works as a marriage of sci-fi, romance and drama with some spellbinding scenes and a fantastic soundtrack. Visually it is invigorating and it is hard not to be swept up by all the pop culture references, which is to be expected from director, Cameron Crowe.
Dislikes: A lot has been said about Tom Cruise’s character being too narcissistic to care about. If the film is esteeming narcissism then we can see the point, though perhaps it is not esteeming it at all but showing us the complexity of the persona world, all the way into the sinister transhumanist world as a sci-fi extension of said narcissism.
Is this almost Huxleyan transhumanist artificiality the answer to humanities self-imposed woes? One cannot work out if Cameron Crowe advocates these ideas or not. As an exploration of a fractured mind, it works, however.
5. Inland Empire (2006)
Likes: The second of three Lynch films on the list. Does this make Lynch the most marmitiest of directors? Not neccesarily; there are other films omitted from the list for no real reason other than memory and choice. The likes of Luis Bunuel, Nicolas Roeg and Ken Russell have all made just as many polarizing films. Inland Empire is familiar Lynch and a departure at the same time.
It is familiar in context and style, but it is unfamiliar in its look, utilizing digital cameras. Laura Dern is captivating as an actress cast in an apparently cursed movie, showing an emotional complexity that is gripping to watch. As she is pulled in by a vortex of sinister forces, we too are pulled into the pool of her frightened eyes. Lynch’s mastery of mood and atmosphere makes this a truly absorbing nightmare and a unique journey into Hollywood’s darker alcoves.
Dislikes: What would the film have looked like or felt like if it was shot on celluloid? The digital cameras work in creating a disjointed, fragmented nightmarescape, but would it have worked better if shot on celluloid? Shooting digitally works for creating such an unsettling mise-en-scene and sense of voyeurism but it may turn off some. The running time is on the lengthy side and therefore it may be one rabbit hole too deep.
4. The Tree of Life (2011)
Likes: Terence Malick does not make many films – though he seems to be upping the ante recently in his twilight years – but when he does there is a bold vision on display. Because The Tree of Life is so bold and ambitious, we are treated to a dazzling cinepoem reflecting “as above, so below”.
Like nature, it is wholesome, therefore nothing is separate or impertinent, every living soul has equity, whether it’s Jessica Chastains evangelical and graceful mother, Brad Pitt’s robust survival-of-the-fittest father or a dinosaur. Malick’s utmost comprehension of equity and how he expresses that on screen is what makes this film special and unique.
Dislikes: There are experimental scenes that fit the story but are also distracting as a visual spectacle. This is down to the use of CGI, which feels out-of-place in a Malick film. Of course, we are talking about the dinosaur scenes. They work thematically but work less visually. The end scenes are perhaps too obscure and metaphysical, but again, work thematically.
3. Avatar (2009)
Likes: It’s a spectacle that has to be seen for it’s technical wizardy and it’s the kind we’re accustomed to from James Cameron. The story is familiar but it is the familiarity of truth; “Dances With Wolves in space” is how some have described it and yes, it has the same message of morality and preservation. If our protagonist Sam Worthington dons the avatar of a Na’vi person, it is the Na’vi people who may as well be avatars for all indigenous peoples victimized by genocidal maniacs throughout our own history.
That is the unshakable voice that successfully comes through in the film. It is no surprise that many people have said how they want to be immersed in that world, as if tapping into an ancestral memory of a lost paradise. The film works almost like a memory of a lost wholeness albeit in hyperreal allegorical form.
Dislikes: Though Zoe Saldana and Sam Worthington do a good job in their respective roles as Na’vi Neyteri and Jake Scully, some of the other roles seem miscast. We have cardboard cut out villains in Stephen Lang and Giovanni Ribisi as a megalomaniac and a corporate puppet.
As conflict is integral to all great stories, the villains veer from cartoony to robotic and we perhaps needed something more complex. It would have worked better with characters that were more ideologically and psychically complex – as in the recent Dawn of the Planet of the Apes – or if Lang’s character embodied the banality of evil rather than a rabid dog.
2. The Fountain (2006)
Likes: Cloud Atlas recently did something similar with reincarnation and immeasurable love being conveyed in different roles, races and even on different planets. The Fountain focuses on just one relation between doctor Hugh Jackman and his dying wife Rachel Weisz. He must find a cure. The visuals, music and performances from Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz are all first-rate. There are scenes of unspeakably beauty and sorrow. The film succeeds as a spiritual, even shamanic, work.
Dislikes: There are not too many gripes other than tonal shifts and contrasts that can feel like being taken in and out of an ayahuasca trip. That can be a good or a bad thing. There is an eschatological aspect to the film, not neccesarily religious, though it could be interpreted that way.
We have the Mayans crop up and their creation myth explored, in other words, the film is open to interpretation. Director Darren Aronofsky said that “the film is very much like a Rubik’s Cube, where you can solve it in several different ways, but ultimately there is only one solution at the end.”
1. The Village (2004)
Likes: Typically suspenseful by Shyamalan, this works well as a love story and a character piece. It’s the acting that is the real stand-out, especially Bryce Dallas Howard in a breakout performance. It also has a certain amount of grace.
Dislikes: The twist ending is not that much of a disaster, it just doesn’t have as powerful an impact as it could have in comparison to The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable. Because those two films had strong finales, the hype of there being an equally strong twist at the end may disappoint some viewers. The twist is clever, but it lacks an emotional punch. The aforementioned films had a twist that was clever however the pay-off was also satisfying on an emotional and spiritual level.
Author Bio: Ben Ziegler is 29-years-old and was born and raised in Weston-Super-Mare, England. He currently works as a housekeeper at his local hospital. As well as writing scripts, blogs, watching movies and reading profusely, Ben also spins poi (a fitness meditation), plays football and is an oil painter. He is currently trying to learn German and Cherokee.