This weekend Metallica Through the Never gets a wide release, so what better time to mention a couple of my favorite films revolving around music or where music is an integral part of the story? No better time! Wow, did I really need to answer that? Guess not. Anyways, as always these are just five of many films about music I love and appreciate, I didn’t rank them because I don’t like that: Bla bla bla, the usual stuff. Also: No, I couldn’t make a list of favorite astronaut movies if I tried, sorry Gravity fans. Back to music!
5. The Double Life of Veronique (1991, Krzysztof Kieslowski)
Actually, I prefer Three Colors: Blue as far as Kieslowski films about music go, but I’ve recently mentioned the film when discussing my five favorite trilogies, so I don’t want to repeat myself too much. Also, I just really want to give a shout out to this film which is not as talked about. La double vie de Veronique (original title) is a stunning piece, a delight to look at (much like Irène Jacobs’ lovely face) and a pleasure for the ears. Composer Zbigniew Preisner outdoes himself once more if you can believe it. The story is not exactly new with the whole doppelgänger thing, but when it was released Hollywood hadn’t caught on to it yet, so I can imagine the concept being fresh at the time. I wish I could have seen it then, but still this is a great film with fantastic photography, stellar performances and of course great music.
4. The Last Days of Disco (1998, Whit Stillman)
This is my favorite Whit Stillman film. Yes, it’s about music and disco, but at the end of the day like all of his films it’s about bourgeois kids, bohemian girls and dandies. The best scene of the film is when Josh (Matt Keeslar) makes an incredibly heartfelt speech about how disco will never die. I also love Chloë Sevigny and Kate Beckinsale as the two leading ladies. However the best part of course is the Whit Stillman’s witty dialogue and his quirky humor, the character’s little idiosyncrasies and the small intimate moments they share with each other. Plot and story are really secondary in a film like this one, still the fact that I don’t remember much of it means that it’s due for a re-watch.
3. Last Days (2005, Gus Van Sant)
As a big fan of Gus Van Sant’s work, I feel that this is one of his most under-appreciated films. Why might that be? Gee, I wonder. No, actually it’s very simple. People have increasingly short attention spans, myself included, so whenever a “slower paced” film comes along it sadly goes unnoticed (like Sofia Coppola’s Somwhere). Anyways, Last Days is about Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain’s last days, even if officially it’s about some guy named “Blake”. Michael Pitt stars as “Blake” and easily delivers a career best performance. It’s also worth noticing that the film was shot by Harris Savides (RIP), who collaborated with Van Sant on several pictures and is a particularly fitting choice here since the film needed an almost documentarist approach. All in all a very depressing, but extremely rewarding experience.
2. Jennifer’s Body (2009, Karyn Kusama)
Now, this might seem like an odd choice, but bear with me. Produced by Jason Reitman and written by Diablo Cody, Jennifer’s Body is a stylish horror/comedy film about a young girl (Megan Fox) who is sacrificed to the devil by a band hoping to achieve commercial success. Unfortunately for the guys the girl for the sacrifice needs to be a virgin, which Megan Fox’ character hasn’t been in a while. This is one of my favorite horror films and the music in it is very catchy, the writing is sharp and funny and the performances are better than you’d think. The film is very much about music and the notion that certain bands claim to have made a “deal with the devil” to sell a lot of records. The film’s biggest feat is that it manages to balance horror and comedy, which is not an easy task, like at all.
1. The Runaways (2010, Floria Sigismondi)
Another odd pick. Seemingly. At first. Maybe. The Runaways is about the homonymous first all female punk band in California, their rise and fall to success. Kirsten Stewart and Dakota Fanning play the two women who formed the band, Joan Jett and Cherie Currie and they do a fantastic job. As far as biopics go, this is definitely one of the best, because it’s also a coming-of-age story and a story about friendship and all that. So in this case as well, it’s more than just the music and paradoxically that’s the key to making a good film about music. The lovely young actresses also did their own singing and comparing it to the original recordings I have to say that it is most impressive. A good film I felt is worth mentioning because not many people have seen it or know about it: The Runaways.
Once again this week the good have triumphed over the bad, the evil. Don’t worry we’re still talking about films here of course. I watched and re-watched a lot of good ones. Including once again the short films of Spike Jonze, like I’m Here (2010) and others that you can find on YouTube. Here’s every good film and a couple thoughts on them, if I’ve already reviewed them in the course of the week, just click the title and it will open up the link to the full-length review. Enjoy and don’t forget to let me know about your favorite films of the week. I’m always curious to hear what other people liked.
‘PICK OF THE WEEK’
La Grande Bellezza (2013) – 8 (IMDb 7.5) – Drama, Comedy (Italy)
Cries & Whisphers (1972) – 8 (IMDb 7.9) – Drama, Criterion (Sweden)
Ingmar Bergman is easily starting to become one of my favorite filmmakers. His films are quite simple in terms of plot, but there is so much underneath the surface: symbolism, emotion, drama, passion, depth. It’s quite incredible. Cries & Whispers is considered one of his best and it’s about a wealthy woman on her deathbed and her sisters. You can definitely see how this film influenced someone like Woody Allen (especially when doing Interiors). I loved the performances, Bergman’s use of color (Sven Nykvist went on to shoot Fanny and Alexander and even work with Woody) and the drama, which was so intense. The film is thoroughly entertaining, even if that may not be the most accurate adjective to describe it, it’s very engaging and I could easily identify with the characters even if they’re from a much higher social strata than mine. I guess that when it comes to death we really are all equal.
The Bling Ring (2013) – 9 (IMDb 6) – Crime, Drama, Comedy (USA)
A Short Film About Killing (1988) – 8 (IMDb 8) – Crime, Drama (Poland)
In the same vein of Krzysztof Kieslowski’s A Short Film About Love this is a short film that explores killing. Killing an innocent man and then death sentencing a guilty man. Both films are very short, yet so powerful, because they get straight to the point. As always with Kieslowski his films are gorgeous to look at, this is one of his most beautiful in my opinion. Sławomir Idziak went on to shoot The Double Life of Veronique and Three Colors: Blue for Kieslowski, but in this one it’s a more subdued beauty, less showy, but fascinating nonetheless. I almost felt like Werner Herzog’s look of his On Death Row series was inspired by the look of this film, but I could be wrong. In any case: This is the story about a man who kills a cab driver for no reason and is then sentenced to death. Without any judgment this films just presents the story as it is and is able to inject a lot of humanity and emotion to the characters who feel completely believable and three-dimensional. It’s certainly the best film I’ve seen all week!
Once Upon A Time In America (1984) – 7.5 (IMDb 8.4) – Crime, Drama (USA)
This film has been on my “list of shame” for quite a while now and I just needed to watch it. I finally did and it was quite enjoyable. It’s an epic tale of this gangster’s life, I’m not even going to begin to explain it because it’s so grand and trying to encompass every single and possible aspect of human existence it’s just enormous. Sergio Leone’s direction does feel a bit heavy-handed in some points however, it’s very dramatic, but sometimes too much. The cast is absolutely incredible, but not all performances are subtle, although I was a big fan of Robert De Niro in this film, and he’s usually not my favorite actor, but perfectly cast here. My favorite part was the incredibly romantic score by Ennio Morricone, without the music this film wouldn’t be nearly as great as it is. I was surprised to see Jennifer Connelly as a kid, didn’t even recognize her, she wasn’t a good actress yet, but definitely better than her adult counterpart. If you’re a Giuseppe Tornatore fan or know his films you can definitely see how he was influenced by Leone; Nuovo Cinema Paradiso feels a lot like Once Upon A Time In America.
Viridiana (1961) – 7.5 (IMDb 8.1) – Drama, Criterion (Spain)
Great film by Luis Buñuel, great social commentary too. I was pleased to see Fernando Rey in this film, because I liked him a lot in That Obscure Object of Desire. Viridiana however follows a young woman who wants to become a nun, but then realizes that maybe that sort of lifestyle isn’t right for her. So she decides to open up a charity and help people who way, but if you know anything about human nature it’s that we’re all just a bunch of ungrateful bitches. The film’s climax is pretty great and incredibly poignant. The black & white cinematography is absolutely gorgeous and dreamy. Buñuel surprisingly holds back with the surreal elements in this film (or maybe I just didn’t catch them?). Although the ending could is maybe not to be taken “literally”, but again I could be wrong. Great performances all around, nice score and just a crisp, to the point film. Also, very ahead of its time with some of the thematic elements, in terms of censorship and what you’re allowed to show/imply. I always like it when filmmakers are able to defy the system and do whatever they what, not playing by the rules.
Riddick is the third film in Vin Diesel’s crazy sci-fi/action trilogy, so this week’s topic is going to be trilogies. What are some of your favorite trilogies? Usually I always hear the same ole franchises mentioned when people talk about trilogies, but few people know that many auteurs and indie filmmakers work in that format as well. Since I tend to gravitate more towards the art house camp, my favorite trilogies are going to be a bit more “unusual” maybe, or pretentious, depending on how you see it. Don’t be offended if your favorite trilogy isn’t mentioned, just leave a comment with your favorites, so that my ridiculously elitist point of view will be counterbalanced.
Note: Some critics count Ingmar Bergman’s Through a Glass Darkly, Winter Light and The Silence as a trilogy. Now, I’m not sure if that’s “official” or just the Criterion box set, but in any case those movies are amazing and some of the best in cinema history, so I’m not going to count them in my list, but they’re definitely some of my favorite films.
So, without further ado and in order of release date: Here are my five favorite trilogies and below some other I dearly love and wanted to mention because I don’t want to exclude anything.
5. Michelangelo Antonioni’s Alienation Trilogy
La Notte (1961)
4. Michael Haneke’s Glaciation Trilogy
The Seventh Continent (1989)
Benny’s Video (1992)
71 Fragments of a Chronology of Chance (1994)
3. Krzysztof Kieślowski’s Three Colors Trilogy
Three Colors: Blue (1993)
Three Colors: White (1994)
Three Colors: Red (1994)
2. Whit Stillman’s Doomed-Bourgeois-in-Love Trilogy
The Last Days of Disco (1998)
1. Richard Linklater’s Before Trilogy
Before Sunrise (1995)
Before Sunset (2004)
Before Midnight (2013)
Honorable Mentions: Wonk Kar-wai’s Days of Being Wild Trilogy, Lars von Trier’s The Europa & Golden Heart Trilogy, Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather Trilogy and Park Chan-wook’s The Vengeance Trilogy.
Trilogies I haven’t seen (completely) yet, but plan on watching: Gus Van Sant’s Death Trilogy, Dario Argento’s The Three Mothers Trilogy, Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Trilogy of Life, Sergio Leone’s The Dollars Trilogy and Yasujirō Ozu’s Noriko Trilogy.
Here’s a list of the best movies I watched this year so far. My major discovery was South Korean auteur Kim Ki-duk, but I also got to see Krzysztof Kieslowski’s incredible Three Colors trilogy, explore some of Fellini’s lesser known works and further dwell into the fantastic filmography of Swedish national treasure Ingmar Bergman. Ranking them was a difficult task, not my forte, but I can honestly recommend every single one of them.
1) 3-Iron (2004, Kim Ki-duk)
2) Three Colors: Red (1994, Krzysztof Kieslowski)
3) Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter… And Spring (2003, Kim Ki-duk)
4) Il Bidone (1955, Federico Fellini)
5) Time (2006, Kim Ki-duk)
* Word of advice: Before watching Arirang make sure you’ve seen at least Kim Ki-duk’s most important films, it will get you a greater appreciation for it.