In a yet another year overrun with prequels, sequels, and big-budget superhero movies for kids, seemingly the only directors given a chance to make films that embody the CineArtistry motto of bold, audacious, and personal filmmaking were legacy directors who have already proven themselves time and time again.
Fortunately, it just so happens that the same type of directors who make bold, audacious, and personal films also have the need and drive to push the boundaries of their own established styles instead of falling into complacency as the big-budget, factory films are notorious for doing.
A perfect example of complacency in a big-budget, soulless film is the opening sequence of CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR. It’s nothing more than a caper sequence in an African market, the generic setting of which has been seen in James Bond films, Mission: Impossible films, Bourne films, and Argo, to name just a few. No emotional weight is given to any of the characters, and they all succeed in their mission without a single pitfall. One word: dull.
The films on this list are anything but complacent. In our screenings and in our posts, we frequently mention the idea of a film’s “soul.” We’re very fortunate, as fans of these directors, to not only experience this level of mastery, but also absorb their insight into the world at large.
5. EVERYBODY WANTS SOME!!
Directed by Richard Linklater
After the unequivocal masterpiece that was BOYHOOD, Linklater quickly returns to his indie comedy roots that made him famous in the first place. Considered a spiritual successor to DAZED AND CONFUSED, this film feels lighthearted on the surface, with many of the scenes undoubtedly seeming innocuous if taken out of context. Even if lighthearted laughter was all it had to offer, though, the laughs are ridiculously abundant, and the characters, and their camaraderie, are extremely likable. What really pushes this film into compelling territory is the underlying feelings of both existential dread and wonder that permeates throughout the film in the form of a drastic change in living situation, in this case going off to college. We’ve all been there: “what am I supposed to be doing with my life?” “Is this what I’m supposed to be doing or is this just what everyone has told me to do?” “Do I look forward to the road ahead or am I scared? Am I both at the same time, or does it really even matter at all?” The film tells us to just chill out and go with the flow. Great advice.
4. HAIL CAESAR!
Directed by Joel and Ethan Coen
The reactions to this film felt like it was dismissed as a well-crafted, but ultimately, shallow homage to Classical Hollywood, with its rigid infrastructure and theatrical, larger-than-life personas. That was far too quick of a dismissal. As exemplified by Josh Brolin’s character’s frequent visits to the confession booth, the film is about fate and destiny, themes common in Coen Brothers films but never presented in a light so specific and most likely indicative of the directors’ own real life sensibilities. It’s not too difficult to suppose that the Coen Brothers see something of themselves in Josh Brolin’s character, in that they are revered as being masters of their profession, but the profession itself happens to be extremely difficult and taxing on the soul. In a bonus interview after the credits at the Arclight Cinema in Hollywood, Roger Deakins, the legendary cinematographer, was asked why he continues to work with the Coen Brothers after so many films. His answer? “Well you’re either getting on with people or you’re not.” Here’s hoping to many more collaborations.
3. MANCHESTER BY THE SEA
Directed by Kenneth Lonergan
Films written and directed by playwrights have a tendency to be too dialogue-heavy and on-the-nose. What works for loud and boisterous projections to an audience on a stage does not necessarily work in the intimate, controlled, and more highly immersive environment of a film. This film, however, not only has extremely complex and emotional storytelling suitable for Off-Broadway theater, but wisely features muted performances suited for even more added complexity in the context of film. The audience is immediately left to wonder what Casey Affleck is feeling or thinking at any given moment, and only glimpses of his previous life and attitude are given to the audience to fuel this enigmatic character. The glimpses, in the form of the secondary characters’ reactions to him, the environment he’s in, and very creative and bold flashbacks, are all excellently portrayed and even a bit experimental. Flashbacks will suddenly appear after a single small gesture or shot of a scene, and some of the flashbacks are longer than the containing scenes themselves, giving the sense that grief ultimately has no rhyme, reason, or explanation. Sometimes feelings are impossible to articulate, and, for better or worse, accepting this futility is the only way to survive.
2. THE NEON DEMON
Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn
Films that stand the test of time are often divisive. That’s why a number of films get nominated for Oscars every year and, while most of them are at least entertaining, they’re ultimately forgettable. Many of the images in this film are unforgettable in their sheer audacity and shock value, but that’s not what makes the film great. It’s the sense of weirdness and the willingness to go as far as possible, while firmly rooted in metaphor. What other film features Keanu Reeves as a pedophile? Or a pretty, naive blonde girl fervently watching a violent, underground sex show? Its films like this that end up becoming fables of sorts, because their underlying messages can be construed into many real-life contexts. Many people have experienced savage competition in their own careers, and many people have felt manipulated. The film also expertly jumbles together genre in a way that can only be attributed to a singular vision, something that CineArtistry very much strives to promote.
Directed by Martin Scorsese
A warning: this isn’t a film to be watched and “enjoyed.” It’s a film meant to be watched and be profoundly affected by long after the credits roll. Scorsese, by most accounts, is one of the very few living legend filmmakers still making films for the ages, and this stands on hallowed ground as one of his best, even for him. There are so many scenes in this film that are so emotionally devastating, so expertly executed, and so incredibly soulful that it transcends traditional review. Films about faith tend to be sappy and shallow in their message, however this film is not necessarily about faith but pride. There’s an incredible scene in the film where Andrew Garfield’s character discusses with a Japanese Governor about the merits of Christianity, and Garfield is so beaten down, so numb to the atrocities he’s witnessed that he can’t even bring himself to make a compelling argument about his own faith. It’s about how far anyone is really willing to go to hold onto his or her own belief system, and if that isn’t a universal message, there’s no telling what is.