Tuesday, February 19, 2008


GREED (1924, Erich von Stroheim)
Erich von Stroheim’s 1924 silent film Greed is one of the most extraordinary achievements in film history. One that was far ahead of its time and certainly paved the way for modern cinema (and for notable masterworks, such as Orson Welles’ monumental Citizen Kane). Greed succeeds in a blend of complex realism with highly stylized cinematic technique rarely matched. The deep focus of the compositions give the film a timeless visual quality and its emotionally tragic humanism foreshadows that of Jean Renoir (who undoubtedly has been a pivotal influence to both Robert Altman and Paul Thomas Anderson). The core of There Will Be Blood is the battle of capitalism against religion, and greed is the driving force.

CITIZEN KANE (1941, Orson Welles)
Many have compared Paul Thomas Anderson’s film to Orson Welles renowned American classic. The most obvious connection of the film lies in the lead characters and the sense of greed and depression they carry. Welles’ newspaper tycoon Charles Foster Kane easily reminds one of Daniel Day-Lewis’ oil man Daniel Plainview, and Anderson’s grandiose filmmaking certainly recalls that of Welles. Channeling Kane’s rise from early modest beginnings to alienated madness, There Will Be Blood may differ only in that the arch of the Plainview characterization doesn’t necessarily change, and the sentiment of a connection to humanity (such as Kane’s Rosebud) is absent. Plainview’s humanity only emerges from his unrelenting (and primitive) determination. I think ultimately they are quite different, but it is interesting comparing these two characters and films, both of which are destined to be placed among the iconic films of American cinema.

BARRY LYNDON (1975, Stanley Kubrick)
From the opening image (and accompanying music) There Will Be Blood resonates with thoughts and feelings of Stanley Kubrick, and this continues throughout the film (even all the way through the end credits). Certainly direct comparisons can be made with The Shining, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and A Clockwork Orange. However, I think There Will Be Blood is most comparative with Kubrick’s 1975 masterpiece Barry Lyndon (perhaps his most perfect film overall). There is a similar structure and mood to the way these films operate and as such they are likely to divide audiences. Like There Will Be Blood, Barry Lyndon leaves a cold and empty feeling. Yet emptiness is essential in each film and it is a bold achievement on the part of the filmmakers for their precise vision, unrelenting to convention.

>> There are definitely more films I would say make good encore selections alongside There Will Be Blood including Billy Wilder’s Ace in the Hole (1951), Elia Kazan’s East of Eden (1955), George Stevens Giant (1956), Roman Polanski’s Chinatown (1974), and as previously mentioned anything else from Stanley Kubrick- notably The Shining (1980), 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), and A Clockwork Orange (1971).

Thursday, February 14, 2008


PORT OF SHADOWS (1938, Marcel Carne)
The most obvious comparison between Port of Shadows and Atonement comes in a beautiful sequence at the Dunkirk evacuation, as a silhouette image of Robbie is seen in front of the projection of Port of Shadows. The moment heightens his sense of longing and fate, both of which define the essence of Marcel Carne’s masterwork of poetic realism. Like Atonement, Port of Shadows is stylized and heartbreaking, and I think its placement in the silhouette was more then a simple homage.

BRIEF ENCOUNTER (1945, David Lean)
With his early mastery of adapting classic novels to film, British director Joe Wright may be the new generations David Lean. Lean was well regarded for his technical filmmaking craftsmanship and epic vision. His greatest achievement (and as far as I’m concerned one of the greatest achievements in the history of cinema) was his most intimate work Brief Encounter. Like Atonement, Brief Encounter takes on a dreamlike state of romantic longing. All at once it feels so full of loneliness, yearning, sadness, and beauty. Certainly the scenes Robbie and Cecilia share together are reminiscent of those brief longing (fantasy?) moments shared by Alec and Laura. Brief Encounter is one of my all-time favorite films and I can think of no greater compliment to Atonement then to say I was reminded of it.

GOSFORD PARK (2001, Robert Altman)
With his wonderful debut film Pride & Prejudice, Joe Wright reminded me of a way Robert Altman might have adapted Jane Austen’s lovely novel. Through long tracking shots, Wright took us beneath the surface and behind the corridors, and made us apart of the Bennett family. Much of that is recaptured in the opening portion of Atonement, which recalls Gosford Park in the way we go in-between the class barriers of the rich family and their workers. The class differential is only slightly observed in Atonement, but it remains a crucial and rather haunting presence as the film unfolds.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

KON ICHIKAWA (1915-2008)

Kon Ichikawa, one of the greatest living Japanese filmmakers, died of pneumonia today at the age of 92.

Ichikawa was one of the key figures to emerge from the postwar Japanese “humanist” era along with celebrated filmmakers such as Akira Kurosawa, Masaki Kobayashi, and Kinosuke Kinoshita. He has directed some of the most significant films in Japanese cinema history, including An Actor’s Revenge (1963), Fires on the Plain (1959), Tokyo Olympiad (1965), and his masterpiece The Burmese Harp (1956), a film that I would consider among the very greatest ever made.

You can view a clip from Ichikawa’s The Burmese Harp that I uploaded on YouTube back in June, here:

Tuesday, February 12, 2008


THE CONVERSATION (1974, Francis Ford Coppola)
Like the best of Michael Clayton, The Conversation is a thriller centered on the character and his moral dilemma. Both George Clooney and Gene Hackman expertly capture the essence of their character without an ounce of overacting. Michael Clayton centers itself around a loss of moral focus at the pressure of big business decision making and The Conversation similarly deals with moral responsibility. The Conversation is one of the very best American achievements of the 1970s, so despite being an inferior film Michael Clayton still captures a lot of what it has to offer.

THREE DAYS OF THE CONDOR (1975, Sydney Pollack)
Michael Clayton is very much a throwback to the liberal-driven adult character films of the 1970s. Three Days of the Condor is directed by Sydney Pollack, who fittingly plays the head lawyer of Michael Clayton. Both films use conventional genre thriller within the character-driven narrative, feature a great cast, and both have a well-intended liberal messages. These types of films were common for the era, but are rarely made by major Hollywood studios today.

THE CHINA SYNDROME (1979, James Bridges)
The China Syndrome is, like Michael Clayton, a tightly made thriller that centers itself around the performances. The star-powered performance of Jane Fonda is not much different then that of George Clooney. Both performances carry an internal moral conscience that is essential to their characters and they each grow and deepen as the film progresses. Also similar are the characters played by Jack Lemmon and Tom Wilkinson, both of whom are crying out their warning. Both films are well paced, and intelligent, liberal-minded character thrillers carried by the performances.

Monday, February 11, 2008


PSYCHO (1960, Alfred Hitchcock)
Obvious connections can be made to the plot similarities between Alfred Hitchcock’s classic 1960 film and No Country for Old Men. However, I’m far more interested in its connections of aesthetics, characterization, and execution. Certainly watching No Country for Old Men draws comparisons to Hitchcock both in the detailed way each shot is storyboarded as well as the use of lighting and editing. There is also the strong sense of mystery and suspense. Like in the best Hitchcock films we are the distant spectators and the film plays with us as much as it does its own characters.

THE STRAIGHT STORY (1999, David Lynch)
The metaphysical core of No Country for Old Men is expressed in its opening voice-over narration, and then later further expressed in the final scene. No Country For Old Men is a film centered around following (or chasing) a path between the past and the future. While certainly a different film, David Lynch’s 1999 The Straight Story has a spiritual and layered feeling that resonates in No Country for Old Men. Both film move at a rhythmic and haunting pace, leaving plenty to reflect on old age and on American living.

The Three Burials of Melquaidres Estrada similarly uses a modern western with political undertones. It also skillfully plays with dark humor and most notably plays with the splendor of the old-western films. The Three Burials of Melquaidres Estrada is the directorial debut of Tommy Lee Jones who also stars. His presence in No Country for Old Men further connects the two films, and it seems a fitting choice to follow-up his Three Burials character with this role. Three Burials is above all a journey for meaning and for the human body and souls connection with land and with death. Those similar philosophical themes are certainly dealt with in No Country for Old Men, a land where the life or death of a human soul can be decided by a flip of a coin.

Monday, February 4, 2008


The Oscars are less then a month away (and according to reports it looks as if the WGA is on the verge of ending their long strike)… In anticipation of the upcoming ceremony, I wanted to take a further look at the Best Picture nominees.

I think it is one of the best classes for Best Picture nominees in the Academy’s 80 year history. I enjoyed all 5 of these films, with 3 of them placing in my personal top 10 of the year. One aspect I enjoyed about these films and many others from this year was the way they reimagined old-fashion cinema in a variety of different methods.

I’d like to take a closer look at each nominee by offering a few encore films as possible recommendations. This is not intended to discredit the originality of these nominated films, but instead provide a deeper connection to their place among history.

I will post each of the nominees individually over the next few weeks leading up to the Oscars…

ELENA AND HER MEN (1956, Jean Renoir)
The great French filmmaker Jean Renoir was master in (among other things) details. In one of his lightest comedies, Elena and Her Men, Renoir used politics under the surface of a romantic farce. It focuses less on plot details then it does on characters, on visual compositions, and on colors. Details in Renoir films are always very rich, and I think the best of Juno captures some of this both visually and in the characterization.

HAROLD AND MAUDE (1971, Hal Ashby)
The world that the great filmmaker Hal Ashby creates is somewhat recaptured here, specifically in tone. Of course the most obvious tonal comparison is the distinct way in which both films use music to set the mood and the characterization. Juno’s use of The Moldy Peaches is not dissimilar to the way Ashby uses Cat Stevens in Harold and Maude, a film that also expressed the beauty of life and of individualism. Bottom line, if you enjoy Juno, the work of Hal Ashby will certainly be worth checking out!

4 MONTHS, 3 WEEKS, AND 2 DAYS (2007, Cristian Mungiu)
This gripping Romanian film just reached American theaters in January. It is probably the complete opposite of Juno, but it is an interesting counterpoint both stylistically and thematically. Both films deal with unexpected or unwanted pregnancy in different ways. They each present opposite views but ultimately both films are less focused on the political issues of pro life or pro choice, instead focusing around the way the characters deal with it. The world of these films do not revolve around these characters, instead they simply inhabit them. As lead protagonists Juno’s Ellen Page, and especially 4 Months 3 Weeks and 2 Days Anamaria Marinca, each give phenomenal performances.