Sunday, June 12, 2011

12 Movies that Changed Me

Recently, I was reflecting on films the have profoundly changed or redefined how I watch movies and approach filmmaking. I thought it would be interesting to assemble a list of the films that have been of most impact for me. So here is a dozen films, and reason why. But being a person that has a hard time making lists of such things, I hesitate to call these the definitive top twelve movies that have changed me. The top six certainly have been of such deep and lasting impact to me that I feel confident in listing them in such high ranks, and have indicated in italics the prime reason I feel they have been of such formative influence on me as a film viewer and filmmaker. There are, of course, a vast number of notable films that did not make it on to this list. That is not to say I haven't found profound value in them. But I thought I would put this out here for discussion and further exploration.

12. Solaris (1972) - pacing, use of environments and sets, visual storytelling.
11. Chinatown (1974) - storytelling, characterization, tragic tale.
10. Blade Runner (1982) - storytelling, use of sets, visual effects.
09. Sherlock Jr. (1924) - early visual effects, visual storytelling, metafiction, early exploration of dream/cinema connection, exceptional comedy.
08. Modern Times (1936) - visual storytelling, comic genius, profound social observation/commentary.
07. Wit (2001 - HBO) - performance, simple yet universal and profound story, profoundly captures the human condition in a unique way.
06. Gattaca (1997) - pacing, character-driven sci-fi, use of environments and sets, use of original soundtrack, storytelling.
05. Adaptation (2002) - metafiction that explores the craft of screenwriting and filmmaking.
04. Children of Men (2006) - cinematography, use of environments and sets, character-driven sci-fi.
03. Casablanca (1942) - storytelling, characterization, exposition and careful and subtle decimation of backstory.
02. The Thin Red Line (1998) - pacing, visual storytelling, editing, visual metaphor characterization and the externalization of the internal lives of characters (when it comes to Terrence Malick, his blending of all these elements is what is so amazing, so all are italicized).
01. In The Bedroom (2001) - crafting an artistic yet utterly realistic experience, pacing, characterization, visual storytelling, tragic tale.

What are films that have profoundly changed the way you think about movies?


gilbertfilm said...

Very cool list. I especially like "In the Bedroom" as a use of realism in film. We're talking about that over at-

And I noticed you have a lot of Metafiction references there which I would say is very prevelant in you new film "Stop". Why do you think that's important in film? What does that say about "super 8"?

AND I also noticed "use of sets" appear a lot. I was wondering if you could elaborate more on some of that?

gilbertfilm said...

Some films that shaped me are "Umberto D." and "The Bicycle Thieves" some Italian neo-realism that I think is important in today's filmmaking culture. I also loved "In the Bedroom". It showed me that this realism can be dramatic and touching beyond what I could imagine. I also loved "Breaking the Waves" for showing me that you can make an amazing message even while displaying some ofthe darkest points of humanity. Don't shy away from the ugly stuff necessarily.

Mikel J. Wisler said...

Good observations! Yeah, I'm very into metafiction as I'm always curious about the veyr nature of what it means to watch a movie or soak in a story. I'm glad you posted a link to The Big Film Discussion blog, because there's so much good conversation going on there surrounding who the experience of watching movies even works.

I think the discussion is important to filmmakers because the more we understand how the medium works, the better equipped we will be to make truly lasting and worthwhile films.

I also think people are naturally curious about how the experience of film works, and thus are drawn to films that reference that. I would liken it to how we're fascinated by our own dreams and how our minds bend reality into the most surreal (yet seeming real while we're experiencing the dream) types of situations and events.

Thanks for reading and commenting!

Mikel J. Wisler said...

Oh yes ... about the use of sets ...

Space is a very important and powerful thing about cinema. Cinema presents a very different spacial experience than does theatre, painting, or still photography, or novels. We get to move through the spaces, and often times I feel like I've really been to these places portrayed in films. I can't say that at all of even the best theatre I've seen or books I've read.

In Solaris, Tarkovskiy uses first the wide open spaces of the natural and very green world combined with his slow editing pace to give the beginning of the film this expansive feel. Then, this all changes when we're inside space station for the rest of the film. The space station set is white, clean, but seemingly life-less. This distinction is important to the story, and the sets build for Solaris are pivotal to plot and character in such a visual film.

With films like Solaris, Blade Runner, Gattaca, and Children of Men, we are entering into whole new worlds. In fact, in all of these specific films, we're peering into a representation of a possible future. The sets created to help us exist for a couple of hours or more in these "other times" are central to making these film work at all. Blade Runner just would work without the gritty/techy sets, nor would Children of Men. Gattaca feels like a whole different planet at times with is retro-style futuristic world that is at the same time clear and warm, yet too tightly wound and prejudiced. We can understand a little more why the main character longs to leave this planet and take off for space travel.

I didn't site this specifically for The Thin Red Line, but honestly, the list goes too long for what Malick does right with that film. He does have sets, and they help us with believing we're in this story, in WWII on the Melanesian Islands. But what Malick really does well is simply point his camera at the natural world and and allow it to tell such an amazing story. His long smooth crane shots over the hills of grass in the nervous yet somehow peaceful anticipation of battle is as much or more about using space and nature (like when the sun comes out from behind clouds and wind sweeps over the tall grass) as it is about good camera movement. The movement is actually secondary to the fact that the point of the movement is to place us there, in a unique perspective of either nature or possibly God as we await the inevitable ugliness of war that is about to follow. And of course, Malick uses nature as his central metaphor in all his films.

Sorry, that was longer then the original blog post. Crazy. But yeah, does that help explain my take on that a little more?