Thursday, 27 August 2015

...

“Masterpiece”
Because fuck not having a pretentious title for a laughably pretentious post.
"Thats me- apparently!"
So let’s talk about this. Similarly to when I approached the way I feel about Inception with as little incandescent fury as I usually treat it- today I just have to break the programme and speak on a word that has popped up more times in recent memory than I can ever remember- film-wise. Our little eponymous friend the “masterpiece”.

Recently, there has been a wave of critics praising film after film as a ‘masterpiece’, something truly special and by my definition of the word: one of the best films ever made. To get some context here with my problem, I established earlier that I was going to use the term as sparingly as possible to honour only the greatest cinematic achievements where all other praise failed me. Here is a list of films, from every movie I have ever seen, that I would dub “masterpieces”.

Stalker
The Seventh Seal
Seven Samurai
Rashomon
Andrei Rublev
Chinatown
Apocalypse Now
The Thin Red Line
The Leopard
Casablanca
The Lost Weekend
Taxi Driver
There Will Be Blood
Traffic
Deliverance
M

Tally that up and we get seventeen. To put that into perspective, my big excel list numbers 626 films- every film I have ever seen- and for the past couple of years I have only looked out for ‘the best’. Notice also that there are only two ‘contemporary’ films up there: There Will Be Blood and Traffic. I am not saying that modern films are bad- far from it: Assuredly filling a ‘best of the 2000s’ list is the sole reason I haven’t started that series yet. My problem is with complacency in the modern film industry.

Movies aren’t dying, they are evolving. With advancements in the way we perceive the medium like Netflix, cinemas and movies with them are almost in decline. Film piracy is among the highest rate of theft in the majority of western countries and even now video-games are almost becoming the next big art. None of this would matter if good movies were released, and they are (trust me)- but not ALL THE TIME. Look back at 1970, or 60, or 50. Each and every year in those decades is home to an entirely masterful film and beyond that: one we will all remember and study. Required reading, if you will. Now look at 2010- perhaps the weakest year for film of the last two decades. Black Swan? Excellent movie, but not the one we are going to remember from 2010, despite being its best.

So where does “masterpiece” fit into all of this? Well- take a look at last year’s reviews. Whiplash, Birdman, Enemy, Boyhood, Budapest, American Sniper, Interst-

...Sorry threw up in my mouth there a little.
All films (and mostly great ones) that have been dubbed, many times by many critics, as masterpieces. Were they? Were they (all) really? If we take a look at modern film it’s not hard to see why. 2014 was home to a wave of truly exceptional films, but perhaps they are only that good by today’s standards. Look at 2015. San Andreas. An endless sea of 80s re-imaginings and sequels. None of these were good. This is recycling- turning old, abandoned properties with nostalgic appeal into one last bit of cash before they kill their franchises. It’s a cynical way to look at it, but that’s what it was. You could argue that every film is designed to make money- and you would be right (most of the time), but by that logic, every film should also be the best ever made.

So you take the films of 2014 and weigh them up against Transformers and Fast & Furious and they shine like diamonds in a computer generated desert- yet turn back time a few decades, even to the 90s, and in the context of the great films of that decade, they wouldn’t be half as memorable. Are they really masterpieces, as you say? Is Mad Max: Fury Road an “Avant Garde masterpiece” and the finest action film ever shot?

No.

…Sorry I’ll get back to the point that just had to be said.
An era of crappy movies making big money and thus being exposed to millions around the world as crappy movies (more accept that than you’d think) has let an air of mundanity sneak in, so that anything even remotely above the normal vein of explosions and exploitative sex appeal (*ahem* Mad Max) is praised limitlessly. This may be a last-ditch effort by people to push film in the right direction- to praise the good instead of the GREAT because it’s all there is to praise. Perhaps if nothing else is great and you need one “masterpiece” review per year then why not slap it on what stood out, even if it didn’t stand very tall above everything else.

There has already been some excellent, decade topping films throughout this half of the 2010s (a-la Incendies, Somewhere and Shame), however all of these movies failed to garner that same praise from most critics? Why is this? If we are praising new methods of storytelling and conveyance, then why not adorn these with accolades, rather than- I dunno “let’s go to the promised land that then doesn’t exist for an unexplained reason after half a film’s worth of travel so we just GO BACK”.

So in the end the main point of all my venting here (sorry about that) is that if we just throw around this word, this word that, if anything, should be reserved for the very finest films of an era, or generation, or decade- then it loses all meaning. If we simply stick “masterpiece” on anything, in order to promote growth within a medium fast receding to 80s pulp commercial appeal only without the charm and nostalgia blinders- then soon it will mean nothing: “just another masterpiece, they say that about everything nowadays.” I know this because this is how I feel- and whilst I'm certainly not the center of the universe and pretty unimportant in the grand scheme of, well anything, I am, as we all are- a person. And people talk, and people think, and it doesn’t take long for people to think the same things. Throwing it at everything gives film a lack of direction- and that’s the most important part- if anything. 

So I guess here I'm just appealing to anyone that will listen to ignore that “masterpiece” tag on the newest Nolan movie (go see it though because it’s probably still pretty good) and make your own mind up on it. I have read countless reviews from the very best, and indeed from decades and decades ago- and yet despite the exceptional movies released back then, I barley read that word. Why? Because, although there were bad movies, as there are now, there was also a hell of a lot of good ones- and to stand above the very best at the top of their games- you had to be a masterpiece.


…See what I mean?

My Top 13 Male Psychopaths In Film

I decided to keep this list strictly male, as there is thankfully also a plethora of female demons ready to take the stage for their own vicious list later on. It seems madness is as blind to gender in film as it is in our world. Moving on- not all of these people are categorically psychopaths, but I like the word and you get what I mean. Quintessential male movie nuts- enjoy…

13. Norman Stansfield
Leon: The Professional – 1994

Stealing the show every single frame he spends onscreen, Oldman kills it as Norman Stansfield, a deranged, corrupt and sickeningly twisted cop who perhaps best encapsulates the tortured glee some of the psychos that follow take to their ‘work’. His rampage through a New York apartment listening to Beethoven works as a nice little homage to my next pick as much as a wonderfully warped window into the mind of a psychotic killer. Oh- and he is creepy as hell in that toilet scene.

12. Alex DeLarge
A Clockwork Orange – 1971

“COME AND GET ONE IN THE YARBLES! IF YOU HAVE ANY YARBLES, YOU EUNUCH YELLY THO!”

“No time for the old in-n-out, I’ve just come to read the meter”

“I was cured all right.”

…Yep. All done here. Moving on…

11. The Reverend
The Night Of The Hunter – 1955

Because its arguably Mitchum’s finest performance, bleeding his trademark western slow burning charm- and yet also a fusion of some of the most gruesome characteristics and goals known to man. Not afraid to hunt and literally fucking mentally and physically destroy children for a little loot, The Reverend and his double-barreled tattoos are about as legendary as movie psychos get.

(A side note: I bought and saw Night Of The Hunter yesterday, and it is clear that Mitchum, the divinely gorgeous photography and that ominous, menacing, often deafeningly brutal score are the stars of an undeniable masterpiece. Sadly- everything bar those are not worthy of that same film :/)

10. Anton Chigurh
No Country For Old Men – 2007 

Because in a year where Daniel Day Lewis set a new president for the pinnacle of onscreen acting- Bardem still managed to construct a persona so complete it did not falter in his shadow. Where Lecter failed to chill me, Chigurh makes up for him in spades.

True, the monster still retains the classic black wit of the Coens and gets a laugh in here and there, but the frightening precision and practice of this man- each step he takes observed and explored to pitch-perfection, is really what makes the movie. It’s their best work since Miller’s Crossing (for many others Fargo), and that is thanks almost entirely to Bardem's faultless work.

 9. Jack Torrance
The Shining – 1980

Nicholson may come across as a tad hammy and overdone in a few of his scenes- and swallowing the scenery whole in others- and indeed his mental degradation is not documented with the pace and precision by director or actor of- say... Polanski and Deneuve in Repulsion; it is however inarguable effective.

You think of the word unhinged and the first name that springs to mind- film-wise- is Torrance. His creepy stares, his maniacal smiles, erratic movements and hallucinations all knit together to create a shambling monstrosity of cinematic brilliance. Say what you like about the way they went about it and the imperfections it holds- Jack Torrance is as beautifully hideous a movie killer as they come.

8. Rupert Pupkin
King Of Comedy – 1982

Because King Of Comedy might just be the most underrated film Scorsese ever made, and to me it certainly ranks among his very best. A steady, crippling, satirical and ferociously comic descent into the depths of fandom and futile ambition- Pupkin is a character I have always admired from a film I simply adore. The moment we have that slow, almost painfully lonely pull- that ‘crowd’ revealed to be a thin plank of painted cardboard- we know the dream team is going to deliver something different, and by god do they.

7. John Doe
Se7en – 1995

“Detective. Detective. DETECTIIIVE!!!”
God that shit is just impaling.

The first name on the list (and last for a while) that is just dead serious- Spacey spared no hint of ego or slimy charm to breathe life into this glacial killer. His frighteningly meticulous preparation, the eerie calmness that follows him, each movement and word he speaks holding a venomous agenda warped to his own twisted psyche. Murderers in movies don’t get more Stygian than John Doe. A puppet master tangling the strings into an un-unravelable oblivion with ferocious accuracy, and Fincher’s answer to a Demme’s own perfect killer a few years prior…

[And yes I did just do the whole contrived 'no.7' thing ;)]

6. Hannibal Lecter
The Silence Of The Lambs – 1991

The only reason Hopkins’ legendary screen persona does not rank any higher is because I have always considered the man a little too calm, composed and well... hilarious – to truly chill me. Since the first time I saw the film, at 13, I thought everything Lecter said was comedy gold- and his inherent coldness has continued to kind of fall flat on me.

That being said- the man did an excellent job bringing to life one of the most deliciously dangerous killers in filmic fiction. Lecter is perhaps the most legendary and recognizable name on this list, even to those who have not seen the film (or read the book) and indeed people oblivious to it today. He has lived on through two progressively poorer sequels and a prequel that successfully killed off the franchise (keeping to the tradition of first horror film great- follow-ups awful, defied only by the Friday the 13th franchise- which has no good movies) and yet still survives in our nightmares, and indeed without Hopkins’ prowess in the first installment- I doubt the show ‘Hannibal’ would have ever existed. An early benchmark of 90s screen acting and an unquestionably immortal psychopath.

5. Patrick Bateman
American Psycho – 2000 

Because Mary Harron’s exquisite, pitch-black comedy would be nothing without him. Bale personifies both the cold, clinical and cruel psychopath of Ellis’ source material, as well as his zany, electrified opposite the film brings to viciously entertaining life. My admiration for the film is literally ALL in Bateman (and perhaps that smooth as hell editor). Bale pulled off by far his best performance of the early 2000s right under everyone’s nose. This shit needs an upscale on ‘cult’. Everyone needs to see American Psycho.


4. Frank Booth
Blue Velvet - 1987

For those of you who have seen Blue Velvet, Booth needs no introduction, nor explanation.

For those who haven’t and are wondering why I have covered him so briefly- see above >:)

3. Lemorne
The Vanishing – 1988 

Now when I think of filmic psychopaths, there is no man I find more truly terrifying than Lemorne of Sluzier’s excellent The Vanishing. Any thriller that immediately after the original big event swings us into the seat of the ‘hunter’ to reveal exactly how he did it and to explore the darkest depths of his quiet insanity is, as I have said before, well worth a try (GO WATCH IT)- As is it for the technical prowess with which Sluzier works his procedural chase so that the whole ‘procedure’ aspect is being run by the Psyco, as the tortured hero wades blindly through years of in-congruent and futile searching instead. There is no overarching ‘chase’ in The Vanishing, only a silent, calmly unnerving mystery. We travel through the eye of Lemorne’s mind and know more of his madness than any other man on this list, and the true extent of his condition’s final revelation ranks as one of the scariest moments in all cinema. Period.

2. Norman Bates
Psycho – 1966 

Now not long ago I posted a tribute to both the late Heath Ledger and Anthony Perkins, both having been born on the same day, and sadly both having passed on. Many respected this, though when asked which actor I preferred for their ‘best’ role, there was a little conflict. Ledger was one of the finest actors of his decade, and his subtle, quiet work in Brokeback Mountain and earlier his brief turn in Monster’s Ball will always live with me as his best- though on the subject of the ever-toted Joker, this post burst into flames. I do not see why not honoring his last performance as his greatest is disrespectful, nor do I see how it could be the man’s finest work- and I say all this because it all came from Norman Bates. None of these people had seen Psycho, and indeed few had even heard of the immortally infamous shower sequence- So I implored them to do so.

Not many have, but those who did agreed that Norman Bates is a perfect fucking villain. The man breaks his type and delivers perhaps the most astounding antagonist performance in all cinema, his glacial chill bleeding from each frame he haunts, so quiet and naïve- and yet so unnerving. I would have no problem placing Bates at the top spot on this list, and considering the competition that should be enough- but I had to tell you this story, because respect and reflection are, to me, two essential parts of what makes us, well… us. When people try to defend a fallen artist with such hate and malice it is neither of these things, and although anger is born of anguish, and it is only natural to snap out and fight for what you believe in- it is not necessary to release this pain in such a way. I mourn the man now, even years after his death- after getting to know the plethora of exceptional work he crafted- but I feel I will always know Heath Ledger as ‘the joker’- and not by my own doing.

One needs only take a look online at Suicide Squad press and the comments below it to see just how vilified some people can be. Now this may all be for not, and indeed many may view this as unnecessary or rude or poorly done- but I wanted to ask you to move on. Respect and reflect upon the man who has sadly left us- and admire his work- but don’t attack and discriminate against others solely because they are trying to tackle it as well. I personally think Leto, being, again, as good as they come on-screen, will kill it as the Joker. So, why can’t we all even just hope that is the case, rather than deserting the ship before it’s even started sinking.

Alright- preachy heavy stuff is over- moving on.

1. Hans Beckert/Travis Bickle
M – 1931/Taxi Driver – 1976

And tied in first place: The original filmic psychopath- Hans Beckert, coupled with the pinnacle of the persona yet reached in cinema- Travis Bickle.

Beckert is a man we barley know, one we see only mere glimpses of before the very last act of Lang’s masterpiece- and yet his presence hangs heavy over the entire feature. Lorre commits to the screen one of the very finest psychopaths, and yet he did it first. Nothing to learn from, little inspiration or study to build on. The man took only his skill and ingenuity and constructed something truly remarkable.

His introduction in a sweeping, deep shadow that glides so eerily over a gleeful child is among my very favorite in all cinema, even in its briefness and simplicity. Now I, if I alone, was deeply moved by M’s final scene- in two ways. One: Because these anguished parents will finally find their vengeance, and two: Because no-one will ever understand Beckert. Now he deserves to die- as all child killers do, but Lorre does something that evokes just the tiniest bit of empathy for himself. Perhaps it was the parallel drawn from the savage vigilantism of the locals to the growing Nazi movement of the time that allowed this- but I feel it, each time. The fact that I see one, tiny, redeemable fragment of Beckert trapped within a ruthless heart of impenetrable darkness as a misunderstood man who is sick, rather than malevolent- is truly testament to the actor’s power.

Many decades later, we are taken to what I believe, without much doubt or competition- is the finest portrayal of a psycho/sociopath ever committed to celluloid: Travis Bickle. Robert DeNiro’s most complete performance, he perfectly personifies what it is to be lonely- what a crippling isolation can do to the human soul, and in what terrible ways it can be twisted and tangled. I have never seen Bickle as the villain of his story, much like Beckert- both misunderstood devils, committing brutal acts with little grasp on the concept of remorse or mortality. Something drives them to act as they do, something out of their control and out of our sight- however Bickle’s case is far more ambiguous and for that infinitely more interesting.

I cannot decide which performance I prefer, nor which character- but regardless Bickle is, for his mystery, the deeper persona- a complex web of degradation and darkness. We never know where Scorsese, nor Schrader, nor even DeNiro will take him- and whilst it could again be said that he is part of a whole package, each a master providing their very best work (including the exceptional Hermann), there is no denying that Bickle is the very finest acted, and especially written, psychopath in fiction (…?). Schrader has us recognise a man and his wretched plague, but never lets us know him- and that’s why we will never stop talking about Travis Bickle.  

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

50s Reviews Finale 1: Sansho The Bailiff


Now I recently spoke of my feelings towards The Godfather, in that, whilst I admired its masterful execution throughout, I never feel compelled to watch it- rather I have to, like it’s a cinematic chore. Sansho the Bailiff was a film I had wanted to see for months, and had put off doing, despite my easy access to it, until yesterday. It was a film I wanted to see. A half hour in it had already morphed into a cinematic chore- a task I had to accomplish to fulfill myself as a ‘cinephile’, rather than a film I wanted to see to en-richen my journey through the medium. This all made the experience very cynical very fast, despite the breezy pacing- and certainly detracted from the viewing. How was the movie, though?

Now if I characterise Kurosawa’s style as that of a master of compelling fluidity; and Kobayashi as a man who, whilst utilising superb and innovative cinematic techniques is marred by a crippling sluggishness in his pacing- then Mizoguchi is a teller of fables. His style echoes that of ancient parables, lessons of morality and strength to be recited to the young. Whilst I found Ugetsu enthralling for this style, it is also the same one that repulses me from Sansho. This world Mizoguchi establishes through hardships, torture, struggle and dark content very early on, should clearly be tacked with realism, remorse and humility- so as to connect us to the characters and build a feeling of empathy for them. Sadly, the folk-tale structure taken here just has the story told at me, rather than to me- and I end up disconnected and disinterested with the anguish of even the most central players.

And if grief is indeed the star here, and I was unmoved and unphased by its most vicious dealings, throughout- then what really was there to like? Sansho himself, whilst menacing and well-played, was a clichéd villain to the very core- and even the film's most infamous scene, in the self-sacrifice, did not do much to “mesmerize”, nor “entice” me, though it did offer up a wonderfully vivid frame. Indeed a few great shots are all I really left Sansho thinking of. Ugetsu was a film that, whilst I felt terribly overpraised, grabbed me. It took the loose folkish telling of its tale and rolled with it to great effect. Sansho’s structure meanwhile- in its looseness in execution and style- do everything to undermine the dark and complex melodrama unfolding before us; and for that it meant little more to me than just another samurai film. If anything, finishing it made me reluctant (as Aguirre did with Herzog) for me to delve further into Mizoguchi’s work, despite the plethora of films immediately at my disposal. I'm not saying you shouldn’t see Sansho The Bailiff, and indeed, as with Diabolique- I still think it plays a key role in 1954’s feast of fantastic features… but it certainly wasn’t for me. 

B

Saturday, 22 August 2015

1972: 365 Days In 6 Great Movies

(And one I don’t like)
Film, as a medium, is art. I hope we can all agree on this, and in that regard it becomes entirely subjective. Writing about film as much as I do, as publically as I do, I am sure to run into movies that I don’t like, or hold in much higher esteem than everyone else. I want to establish here that, due to the nature of opinion- I am not right. That being said, I am not wrong either- and neither are you. This is just what I think, and 72’ was too good of a year to pass up for this series- regardless of the opinions that I have, that many will disagree with. Feel free to post your own in the comments below, and know I will not judge you for them, nor should you me. All that being said: time to commit cinephile suicide- I have to get something off my chest.

Oh Dear…
Aguirre, Wrath Of God – Werner Herzog

Now I own Herzog’s “totemic masterpiece of German cinema” (as the BFI dvd proclaims so assuredly on the back of the box)- and I simply cannot stop watching it. This is not, sadly, because I love it. It is not because I get lost in its jungular odyssey, nor in Klinski’s performance or the mystic craft and uniqueness with which the film was crafted. I cannot stop watching it because I desperately want to see something in it worth liking. Anything.

5 Viewings in, with many hours devoted to scouring the web for solid answers- I can’t find anything at all I like about Aguirre. My inherent dislike of the film when I first finished it was so jarring I have unfortunately not got around to seeing ANY other Herzog films yet, as much as I want to- because of the fear they will disappoint, as this has- and continues to.

Perhaps I'm looking at it wrong, and you all perceive it as the frenzied, dark and twisted parable it is supposed to be- bursting with creativity and directorial finesse but really all I can see is a washed up, messy, near nonsensically paced film. I feel bad to have to justify that I watch many similar films, those that play with narrative structure and style- and with a similar pace and setting- and I love those. So why not this one?
Why not indeed.

6. Jeremiah Johnson – Sydney Pollack

From a seminal work of international cinema to a TCM western. From the usual standard set by the channel on my holiday (with the exception of Barry Lyndon one night) I was expecting another crappy western with a big name lead spouting less than big lines. Johnson impressed me to such an extent that it’s on here- and I will continue to hear the echoes of its isolation and loneliness for some time to come.

5. Frenzy – Alfred Hitchcock

One of Hitch’s underrated greats, Frenzy showcases the extent of his morbid desires, as well as the cruelest, most viciously violent feature in his filmography. I feel there are better films of his that deserve more attention that they thus far haven’t gotten enough of (to a lesser extent Notorious and to a far greater one The Wrong Man)- but Frenzy takes Hitch back to his British roots and sends a gritty, brutal and pretty maniacal thriller spinning off about London with devilish glee. Perhaps his last truly great film, and at that a fitting swansong for the masterful auteur.

4. The Discreet Charm Of The Bourgeoisie – Luis Bunuel

Because it’s arguably Bunuel’s finest work, one that encapsulates everything in his warped, wonderful world and epitomizes the relationship of the surreal with this world and its mundanities, as well as its prophetic miracles of life and creativity.

I can throw any number of big, hyperbolic adjectives at these kinds of films, and the greatest I can muster is ‘dreamlike’- for it evokes a sense of fluidity, of seamless narrative progression and effortless actions of limitless creativity. Discreet Charm is not a masterpiece; but is a masterwork helmed by a mad-crazy genius- and that’s good enough for me.

3. The Godfather – Francis Ford Coppala

Oh dear. It slips my mind if I have previously articulated exactly why I don’t adore The Godfather as much as every other person ever (for it is a film, much like Citizen Kane, that is so revered that even people who haven’t seen it will be angry you don’t like it)- but now I want to put the point to bed- for good.

As we all know, it’s a masterful gangster film. To many the masterful gangster film. Each scene is an artful painting, full of exquisite dialogue, composition and career best performances from many of the players present. It involves endless amounts of immortal moments and one of the finest uses of cross-cutting in the filmic medium. You’ve heard this all before, as have you heard from naysayers looking for anything to spit on it that it is “boring”. To me this isn’t true. It is, however, a chore.

Now over the past three years I have seen over 600 new films. Many of them were classics that I wanted to visit, meetings I anticipated, and was ecstatic to begin. Many ended in disappointment, but many more in jubilant celebration of the solidarity of another worthy classic. But near ALL of these films I wanted to see, to experience for myself. Every time I see The Godfather, in most the same way as Aguirre- I don’t feel like I'm doing it for myself. The Godfather feels like a chore. Its three hours of slow pace mixed with an infinite amount of plot points acts as a slog that has me worn out not even half way through it- but I am forced to finish it; not doing so would be a disservice to the medium I hold so dear.

In short: The Godfather is a film I have to watch, rather than want to watch. It’s a masterful movie with an equally masterful (and equally tedious) sequel, but it just isn’t for me, and I don’t want to be its slave anymore. I am pretty much done with watching The Godfather.

2. Solaris – Andrei Tarkovsky

I’ve spoken of Solaris A LOT on this blog. Hell- I speak about Tarkovsky any chance I get. The reason for this is better evidenced by the films he made than what I can say about them. All but one are visual poems- bristling with thematic richness and sentimental weight, all deeply personal and yet simultaneously detached and observational. There is a mystery to each (and some are, in themselves, a mystery) linked to time, space and doubtlessly to art and humanity. Solaris is one of these masterpieces of cinema, and for what I have said many times about it before and what I say now- it deserves its place here.

And for those going to address this, somehow the pace and content here is just so absorptive and dense that I get sucked in and can ignore the “tedium” that clouds man’s opinions of the man’s work. I could watch this, or Sacrifice, or Mirror, or Nostalgia and certainly Stalker any day, any time, and any number of times- and that is perhaps the reason it tops Coppala’s work here. Sorry Michael.

1. Deliverance – John Boorman

Now I'm going to be reviewing Deliverance to cap off horror month this October for the 70s spotlight, so forgive me if this is a tad brief- but really, for those of you who have seen this true American classic, and understand its power- Boorman’s loose control over the savagery of nature and the men it infects- and how it ruins any semblance of fun to be had in the forest- then you know why it’s here. Everything I wanted Aguirre to be, and so much more. I am really looking forward to tackling this one.

Friday, 21 August 2015

Director Retrospectives: Terrence Malick


Lauded as an artistic genius and loathed as a self-possessed ass, I fall firmly into the former camp. Terrence Malick is yet to make a film that isn’t something. A marvel of its time that offers a unique meditation on film and its purpose. Malick has produced some of the finest films of the decade in every single decade he has worked in. Each and every one is worth seeing, and seeing and seeing again for those who admire him as much as I do. It probably speaks volumes about the cinematography he is revered for that I literally couldn’t choose a frame to best represent each movie- so I took to google and picked something decent to spare myself the pain. 

Badlands – 1973

Badlands is the invisible American classic. A film turns mass murder into a sexy, explorative odyssey through a country riddled with crime, corruption and loss of values. For its morbidity and enveloping power it has become little mentioned in the film circles I move in, and indeed in wider American criticism- yet its mystery still lives on and it is massively cherished in the silence it evokes; and for very good reason.

Laying the foundations for decades of crime capers like True Romance and building on the foundations of Bonnie & Clyde, Malick’s sophomore effort rests among the very finest cinematic debuts I can think of, thanks in no small part to the electric, almost frightening magnetism of Martin Sheen. We almost develop and loving Stockholm syndrome with this ‘crazed’ killer, but his quiet charisma, even among the cops sent to capture him, is astounding. How he missed out on the Oscar for this, let alone never be nominated in his career (!) after over 250 roles (!!!) is nothing short of criminal.

Favorite Moment: It’s a singular, folkish fable, so I’ll go with the moment I realized that Tarantino had re-purposed it as True Romance- that is to say: Immediately.

A 

Days of Heaven – 1978

The fact that it’s pretty hard to find one stray shot far from a veritable visual feast’s worth of mesmerizing ones is something that would live on throughout Malick’s career to this very day- but it’s perhaps plainest to see here. With actors many today won’t have heard of and those they have that they probably don’t respect half as much as their Di Caps or Mcconaugheys, Malick again weaves a dreamlike rug crafted with dream-like mirages and pockmarked with endless dramas. Days Of Heaven is very much Malick’s Barry Lyndon, to me: A film that takes its time (though here benefits from far shorter length and less tedious pacing) but does not linger, concerned with the petty conflicts of men and women almost detached from the world and lost in its beauty, despite their hardships. I am not among those who cite this among the most beautiful films ever shot, nor do I think it is Malick’s best looking film. It was, however, a pleasant surprise to discover that behind all of that hyperbolic talk of beauty and artfulness- there laid a handily competent dramatic piece. The streak continues.

Favorite Moment: Many would say the fire or the extended sunset shots (i.e. the whole movie); but to me an early brief glimpse of a train crossing a bridge- framed almost as it is swimming in the sky- is the highlight. You know, almost straight away- that this means business, and looks it too. 

A

The Thin Red Line – 1998

And here, the steak reaches its peak. Darting in and out of my top 10 favorites films of all time for years now, but never dampening in magnitude or utter artistic vitality- The Thin Red Line remains Terrence Malick’s best film. I also named it among the 5 films I would call the finest ever made (still looking for a fifth) back in June, and I stand by my statement. Not only that, but to me it is easily the best film of the 1990s, without a shadow of a doubt. 

Why? Because it’s one of the most gorgeous films ever shot. Literally: I cannot find a single frame that isn’t beautiful- that isn’t worth seeing time and time again. It’s faultless. Malick captures the fear, anger and despair of soldiers in single glances, has them talk without naming them and yet their testimony holds such an intimate, personal weight- big name actors pulling off purposeful roles just as expertly as unknowns. It perfectly captures the fall of man and the richness of nature, the futility of our petty conflicts and the haunting horrors they produce. There is no American gung-ho bias- The Japanese are just as scared, hateful and repentant as the marines are. Man, as an entity, does not want to do this. Does not want to kill, or maim, or harm others, in the heat of the moment or many weeks after it is done- But these men were forced to. Such is the nature of war, and our own history-spanning savagery.  

It’s a faultless visual poem. An epic masterpiece. It’s the Thin Red Line, and it’s one of the best films ever made.

Favorite Moment: How a letter from home is the most gut-wrenching part of this vividly harrowing war film.

The New World – 2005

Now I can’t spell the name of the topical Native American Disney princess, so I'm not going to, but Malick’s spin on her tale is among the very finest films of the 2000s- who would have thought it? Tied with The Thin Red Line for the most gorgeous film Malick has worked on, The New World also perfectly portrays both the savage and peaceful beauty of nature, and indeed in each word spoken, in each primal or ‘civilized’ action taken, the workings of nature are superbly represented. It’s a visually stunning, visceral and delicately vibrant masterwork- and easily ranks as Malick’s second best film.

Favorite Moment: The final battle. Flawless.

A

The Tree of Life – 2011

Now attaching such importance to “the poetry of everyday life” was perhaps best summised in Before Sunrise, in that there was a 50/50 split between absolute absorption and condemnation as infectious pretentious drivel. Now of many films that dig into a slice of life, I am more than ready for the meal- but with The Tree Of Life I find myself sadly in the middle. 

The big bold letter below speaks of just how much I value the film, in that it is a masterful poem on the epic journey of life, in its essence, and human progression. It is also tied for the most beautiful film Malick has ever helmed with New World and Thin Red Line- capturing the mysteries of life- throughout its history. 

Yet despite all of this, it’s a very draining film. I can’t watch it often, and often I won’t watch it the whole way through. There is a hell of a lot to take in here- but suffice to say that all of those people who immediately dismiss The Tree Of Life as pretentious garbage aren’t worth wasting your time on. Make your own mind up on it.

My Favorite Moment: A voyage through nebulous millennia. Lost in space. Oh- and of course that dino jump cut.

A

To the Wonder – 2012

Now To The Wonder is by no means a bad film. It’s a Malick film, and review sites (as much as I’ve come to mistrust their rankings on successful films [looking at you Mad “godly” Mad: Fury Road] and indeed on more ‘poetic’ or spiritual ones) called it shoddy and pretentious and every word under the sun that the man has garnered before- except legendary. 

I implore you to see To The Wonder, to experience its relationship and the simultaneous depth and shallowness in which it develops- but also to know that it’s the least great film he has yet made: and to temper your expectations accordingly. 

Favorite Moment: The family comes together and grows in montage

B+

6. To the Wonder
5. Badlands
4. The Tree of Life
3. The New World
2. Days of Heaven
1. The Thin Red Line