Friday, October 24, 2014

Top 15 Underpraised Long Takes

Search for the best long takes in cinema, and you’ll find the usual suspects. The Copacabana shot in Goodfellas; the opening shots of Boogie Nights, Touch of Evil, and Gravity; action scenes in The Protector, Hard Boiled and Oldboy; the car shootout in Children of Men; the TV station shot in Magnolia; the conversation in Hunger; the jog in Shame; the conclusion of The Passenger; the raid in True Detective. You’ll read about the extended use of long takes in movies like Rope, Timecode, Irreversible, Russian Ark, and, soon enough, Birdman. And the thing is, while all of those shots deserve to be hailed as some of the best long takes ever captured, the internet is oversaturated with praise for them. I’ve written about many of those shots on this blog before, so in an effort to branch out, here’s a list of excellent and vastly underpraised long takes in film.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

In Character: Michael Keaton

If I was compelled to make a list of my favorite actors of all time, Michael Keaton would rank high among them. There’s something about him – an everyman quality, a subtle intensity, a pitch black sense of humor – that I’ve always loved. He’s had roles in all types of films, from the classic to the dreadful, and no matter the material, he consistently delivers notable performances. As he currently rides high from his towering work in Birdman, I thought it be fun to take a look back at the best roles of one of our finest actors.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

In the 15 years Alejandro González Iñárritu has been making films, I’ve learned that there is a direct correlation between Iñárritu’s work and my cognitive gratification. The masochist in me is enamored with the emotional brutality of Iñárritu’s films, and the filmmaker in me is continually inspired by his audacious methods of storytelling.

I was in high school when I saw Iñárritu’s first feature, Amores Perros. I started the film late one night, and when it ended in the early hours of a new day, I was unable to form a coherent thought. I was so moved by its power, so troubled by its intensity. A few years later, I walked out of a screening of 21 Grams in a haze, my mind stuck in the emotional hell that film created. From the moment Babel finished, the film became, and remained, one of my top films of the decade. My experience with Iñárritu’s Biutiful was different. Biutiful wasn’t as raw and alive as Iñárritu’s other work. But it grew on me. And with time, I came to love it.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Him/Her

The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby is about perspective. Perspective of the relationship that Connor (James McAvoy) has with his wife, Eleanor (Jessica Chastain). And perspective of the relationship that Eleanor has with her husband, Connor. If those perspectives sound like they belong in the same movie, writer/director Ned Benson has made it very clear that distinction between the two is key.

Ten years ago, Benson wrote a script called The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby, which was about a crumbling marriage as seen through the eyes of the husband. He gave the script to a young actress named Jessica Chastain, who liked it, but thought the wife role was underwritten. A few years later, Benson gave her another script of the same story, only now the marriage was viewed from the wife’s perspective. Benson said he planned to shoot both scripts simultaneously, and release them as two separate feature films. Such is the genesis of The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Him and its counterpart, The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Her. Two films, two perspectives, one vision.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Top 20 Fourth Wall Breaks

Breaking the fourth wall: when a character becomes aware of their fictional nature. That’s the definition given on Urban Dictionary, and despite the source, it is an entirely accurate one. Usually fourth wall breaks are executed with the character looking directly into the camera and talking to the audience. Sometimes, they’re far more subtle.

However, a character looking into the camera because the lens is doubling as a mirror or another character is not a fourth wall break. Tyler Durden looking into the camera as he tells a police commissioner, “Do not fuck with us,” is not a fourth wall break, because Tyler isn’t looking at us, he’s looking at the police commissioner. The Narrator telling us about Tyler’s job as a projectionist is a fourth wall break because The Narrator is talking to us.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

In Character: Frank Langella

When Frank Langella is on screen, you pay attention. His presence demands it. With his towering frame, steely gaze and impeccable bravado, he’s the kind of actor who is impossible not to notice. But the thing I love most about him is that, despite his imposing figure, he often prefers to inhabit his characters in a more nuanced and restrained manner. Watching Frank Langella break bad is plenty of fun, don’t get me wrong. But watching Frank Langella threaten to break bad is infinitely more appealing.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Gone Girl

The girl is missing. So discovers Nick Dunne on the afternoon of July 5, when he walks inside his suburban, Midwestern home and notices that his wife, Amy, is nowhere to be found. A living room table rests flipped and smashed, but no other sign of struggle is apparent. The police arrive as quickly as they’re called. They notice things. A little blood splattered on the kitchen cabinet. An iron that’s still somewhat hot. Nick’s mostly blasé attitude. And so begins the search for Amy Dunne. Amy Dunne, a kind and confident American sweetheart from a well-to-do New York family who met Nick at a party all those years ago. An intense relationship was formed, one based on intellectual stimulation, passionate sex, and ease of wealth.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Top 34 Things I Love About The Game (that no one talks about)

“[My wife] was extremely vociferous, for instance, when she said, ‘Don’t make The Game.’ And in hindsight, my wife was right. We didn’t figure out the third act, and it was my fault, because I thought if you could just keep your foot on the throttle it would be liberating and funny. I know what I like, and one thing I definitely like is not knowing where a movie is going.” – David Fincher, Playboy (Oct. 2014)
What we have here is a very rare instance of me disagreeing with a great director who is bashing their own work. I love The Game, and I love how its intricate puzzle begins to come together in the third act. I’m very surprised Fincher has such big problems with it, but so it goes. In honor of the release of Fincher’s latest film, Gone Girl (which is fantastic, but more on that in a future post), I thought it’d be fun to dive back to one of his more overlooked movies. A film that, apparently, isn’t as liked by its maker as I once hoped. (Please note that this post contains major spoilers.)

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Top 10 Unsung Performances in David Fincher Films

David Fincher knows how to direct actors. More specifically, he knows how to give a character actor a great, meaty role. Unfortunately, many such performances are often out shadowed by the actors who headline Fincher’s films. Despite this, each of the roles below deserve specific praise. And although I’ve already highlighted many of these performances in my In Character column, this work merits continued discussion.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

My Favorite Scene: The Social Network

Every scene of David Fincher’s The Social Network is memorable for its own specific reasons. The Larry Summers sequence, for example, contains what I consider to be the best four consecutive minutes of writing that Aaron Sorkin has ever done. It also features Armie Hammer’s best acting in the film, and a delicious cameo from veteran hardass Douglas Urbanski. I’ve commonly regarded that scene as my favorite in the film, but after watching the entire movie last night, I realized that while that sequence contains great writing and strong acting, the Facemash scene is pure fucking cinema at its finest.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Top 10 Dinner Party (Gone Wrong) Films

There’s something so amusing about watching a handful of friends (or complete strangers) sit down and have a seemingly pleasant meal crumble before their eyes. I don’t know what it is about that situation that I enjoy so much, but below are my favorite film dinner parties gone wrong. I’ve taken liberties with some inclusions here; most occur over the course of an evening, some are spread out for a weekend. Few are about the food, many are about awkward social conventions.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Night Moves

Do me a favor and think about a recent time you got together with a friend to hang out. Maybe you went to happy hour, maybe you had dinner; you’re meeting up with someone you likely meet up with often. You shoot the shit, tell jokes, share laughs. Now, think about what you really said to this person while you were with them. You’ve known them for a while, so there was probably no reason to, for example, keep repeating their name back to them. Or recall stories you’ve already told too many times. You don’t need to do these things, because there’s a shorthand to your interactions. An ease that makes hanging out with them enjoyable. If a camera were present to film your time together, what was captured may not make a lot of sense to people who don’t know you. We wouldn’t have any context to help us better understand the familiarity you and your friend have.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

WAIT: Revealing the Poster

Seven years. I can’t believe I started this blog seven years ago. And the funny thing is, And So It Begins was born out of necessity. When I was a journalism student in college, one of my professors demanded that each of her students start a blog. She didn’t require us to buy textbooks for her course, and, according to her, the tradeoff was that we create own our blogs and update them regularly. We were allowed to write about anything, so, naturally, I began writing about film. Several years later, after numerous changes to layout, design, and my personal taste, I decided to do something I was honestly hesitant to do, and that was discuss my own filmmaking.

My Favorite Scene: L.A. Confidential

“Rolo Tomassi.”

It’s a name that echoes throughout Curtis Hanson’s masterful modern noir, L.A. Confidential.  It’s a name that changes minds, reveals guilt, and displays shame. But, of course, the beauty of the name (and what a fine name it is) is that, technically, “Rolo Tomassi” means nothing. Who he represents is real, a purse snatcher who shot and killed Detective Lieutenant Edmund Exley’s father some years ago, but the name itself was made up by Exley, just to “give him some character.”

Monday, September 22, 2014

Top 37 Things I Love About Somewhere (that no one talks about)

Sofia Coppola’s Somewhere is one of my all-time favorite films. It’s subtlety, its minimalism, its restraint, its isolation – few films from the past several years have had such a profound emotional effect on me. Moreover than simply loving the film, I’m indebted to everything Somewhere has taught me as a filmmaker. Below are just a handful of reasons why I enjoy the film so much. As always, do feel free to share your favorite, overlooked moments from the film as well. (And consider listening to this while you read. Its more fun.)