Gillian Flynn and “Gone Girl:” Whose side are you on?

"Gone Girl" DVD, "Amazing Amy" book
This “Gone Girl” DVD box comes complete with an “Amazing Amy” children’s book. (Photo By: Hunter Goddard).

“Sometimes, the way he looks at me, I think, man of my dreams, father of my child, this man of mine may kill me. He may truly kill me.”

Gillian Flynn conquered the world of popular fiction in 2012 when she published Gone Girl, with some literary critics adamant that the bestselling psychological thriller deserved a National Book Award, or even the Pulitzer Prize. Flynn herself adapted the screenplay for David Fincher’s Academy Award-nominated Gone Girl (2014), and hasn’t ruled out the possibility of writing a sequel. In addition to these projects, Gilles Paquet-Brenner’s Dark Places (2015), an adaptation of Flynn’s 2009 novel, is scheduled for a release later this year with Oscar winner Charlize Theron cast in the starring role, and Flynn is executive producing her 2006 debut, Sharp Objects, as a one-hour serialized drama through Entertainment One Television.

As popular as she is right now in Hollywood, Flynn’s work – Gone Girl especially – has been a source of controversy. She’s been accused of misogyny since her villains are predominantly female and monstrously violent. With a runtime of two-and-a-half hours, Gone Girl disappointed some with its unconventional ending.

Doctor Hye Seung Chung, an assistant professor of film and media studies at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, is one who found Gone Girl to be disappointing. Chung hasn’t read the book, but she saw Fincher’s film, and she enjoyed it up until the big reveal halfway through, when we learn the truth about Amy Elliott-Dunne (Rosamund Pike) and the disappearance which incriminates her husband, Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck), as the prime suspect, a la the 2002 Scott and Laci Peterson case. According to Chung, the film is misogynistic, and it’s nothing more than Fincher attempting to make art out of pulp fiction.

“I think the sentence that best sums up media misogyny is, ‘I hate the bitch,’” Chung said. “Writers write female characters for us to hate them. Women just get in the way and don’t understand their husbands.”

Chung cites Skyler White (Anna Gunn) and Marie Schrader (Betsy Brandt) in AMC’s Breaking Bad (2008-2013) as examples of this, describing them as “bitches” and “nags” and “annoying,” or, at least, from the viewer’s perspective. Chung said women are irrelevant now to the male-to-male, homo-social, “bromance” bond we so frequently see, with a man’s heart belonging only to another man. A woman would be called a “gold-digger” if she married for money the way Nick does in Gone Girl, and nobody ever talks about how he cheats on Amy, or how he asks her to commit social suicide by moving from New York to Missouri, according to Chung.

“In old, classical Hollywood, we used to see female objectification,” Chung said. “Now, we see female disappearance. American audiences’ response to this movie speaks to what young men think today.”

People enjoy the story once it becomes apparent that the “good guy” is being victimized by the “evil bitch,” Chung said. According to her, the choice to cast a relatively unknown actress like Rosamund Pike in the lead alongside a more mainstream actor like Ben Affleck is deliberate when they could have just as easily picked a “girl next door” like Julia Roberts or Gone Girl producer Reese Witherspoon, with Affleck’s persona coming across as an “average joe American” and Pike’s as a “cold, icy, snobbish Brit.” Chung interprets the decision as symptomatic of an anti-intellectual zeitgeist in modern American society; the successful, educated Amy is demonized, and the rural, all-American Nick is idealized.

“If he killed her at the end, audiences would’ve accepted it,” Chung said. “She’s not a character. Her villainy is so exaggerated.”

Doctor Nick Marx is also an assistant professor in the Department of Communication Studies at CSU. Like Chung, he hasn’t read Gone Girl, but, unlike Chung, he enjoyed the film. Marx said he’s a David Fincher fan, and his wife, who read the book, thought the film was true to the original text.

“It’s ambivalent,” Marx said, about the divisive ending. “People don’t like it when one character doesn’t win out, and there isn’t a clear protagonist-antagonist dynamic. They’re both despicable people who deserve each other.”

According to Marx, the film was relatable in that it inspired a conversation between himself and his wife, who are also a young, married couple. He describes it as “pulpy” and “melodramatic,” with all the makings of a pop culture phenomenon and the trappings of awards-bait success in its director and cast, which would’ve been different in different hands. David Fincher is well-practiced with antagonistic females, Marx said.

“I didn’t read Amy’s character as misogynistic,” Marx said. “In fact, I was attracted to her character as an active agent in the story. Her decisions were motivated, and this agency is often denied from female characters.”

A British actor in an American movie can be a cause of nervousness, but Rosamund Pike is well-cast for the part of the icy, aloof Amy Dunne, according to Marx. A prominent, A-list actress, somebody we have affection for, would’ve changed how strongly we react to her character, Marx said. He said he knew of Pike before seeing Gone Girl, but her star persona doesn’t get in the way of her performance, and he had no particular allegiance to Pike anyway, going in.

“They’d need to introduce a new conflict or a new character into the sequel,” Marx said. “The stakes have to be constantly high and shifting, so they’d need to reintroduce stakes into that marriage. I don’t envy the screenwriter whose task it is to make a sequel to such an original story.”

Gillian Flynn is on Marx’s pop culture radar. He reads little contemporary popular fiction, but Gone Girl makes him want to see what happens next. He thinks it’s particularly noteworthy that she was allowed to write her own screenplay.

“That’s uncommon in Hollywood,” Marx said. “Gone Girl is definitely talky and ‘booky’ in some stretches, but I was impressed with her transition. Many writers try the same thing and fail.”

For better or worse, Gillian Flynn will keep us talking, ‘til death do we part.

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My top 10 movies of all time

This is it – my last blog post. I’ll be publishing a bit of original reporting next week, but, as for my own opinions, this will be the end for a while. What better way to send myself off than with a “Top Ten Movies” compilation?

 

  1. Kevin Costner’s Dances with Wolves (1990)

 

Poster, "Dances with Wolves"
Theatrical release poster for Kevin Costner’s “Dances with Wolves” (1990). (Photo Courtesy: Wikipedia).

I know, I know, I’ve said multiple times in the past that Martin Scorsese’s GoodFellas deserved the Academy Award for Best Picture that year, so much so that he got a token Oscar for the far inferior gangster flick The Departed (2006). The stylistically energetic GoodFellas is far and away a better mobster picture than Francis Ford Coppola’s classic but exhaustingly romanticized The Godfather (1972), which IMDB users voted second behind Frank Darabont’s The Shawshank Redemption (1994) as the best movie ever made; nevertheless, Dances with Wolves is simply and purely beautiful, both inside and out. Everything about it, from its epic cinematography to its moving story, is charmed, charming, and impossible to resist – GoodFellas may entertain me, but Dances with Wolves inspires me, and therein lies the difference between artistic filmmaking and cinematic filmmaking.

 

  1. Rob Marshall’s Chicago (2002)

 

Chaterine Zeta-Jones, 2012
“Chicago” star Catherine Zeta-Jones at the 2012 Tribeca Film Festival. (Photo Courtesy: Wikipedia).

What’s up with all this backlash against Chicago? What works about it as a musical, for me, is the fact that the characters don’t literally break out into song and dance – it’s all in the starstruck mind of the homicidal protagonist, Roxie Hart (Renée Zellweger). It’s simplistic, not a very “subtle” or “nuanced” picture, but, hey, that’s musicals for ya, kid; they’re an expressionistic genre in an externalized medium: cinema.

 

  1. Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange (1971)

 

Malcolm McDowell, "A Clockwork Orange"
Malcolm McDowell as Alexander DeLarge in Stanley Kubrick’s “A Clockwork Orange” (1971). (Photo Courtesy: Wikipedia).

Is it bad that I just casually listen to this electro-classical soundtrack in my spare time? A Clockwork Orange is about a teenaged gang leader, Alexander DeLarge (Malcolm McDowell), who rapes and murders and listens to Beethoven with his friends in a futuristic England where there’s nothing better to do; it’s not the “feel-good” movie of the century, but Kubrick wasn’t one for “pleasant” things, and A Clockwork Orange is as visually and musically thrilling as it is intelligent and important. You look at those statues of naked women used as fountain drink machines in Kubrick’s surrealistic, Western capitalist dystopia, where hypermasculinity and ultraviolence have finally taken over, then you look me in the eye and you tell me that that’s not the same thing as Carl’s Jr. using half-naked women to sexualize and sell hamburgers.

 

  1. Adrian Lyne’s Fatal Attraction (1987)

 

Poster, "Fatal Attraction"
The theatrical release poster for Adrian Lyne’s “Fatal Attraction” (1987). (Photo Courtesy: Wikipedia).

Fatal Attraction may not be wholly original – Clint Eastwood’s directorial debut, Play Misty for Me (1971), had already introduced the world to Jessica Walter’s obsessive, knife-wielding woman scorned well before Alexendra Forrest (Glenn Close) ever boiled that rabbit – but Fatal Attraction surpasses Play Misty for Me, and nothing has surpassed it since (I’m looking at you, Obsessed; dat catfight tho, Beyoncé). Play Misty for Me and Fatal Attraction are equally disturbing and unforgettable, and they both succeed where Obsessed fails as far as dramatic tension goes when Clint Eastwood and Dan Gallagher (Michael Douglas), respectively, consummate their deadly relationships with Jessica Walter and Glenn Close, thus introducing a humanizing flaw to their protagonists and granting a legitimate motive for revenge to their antagonists (Ali Larter literally has no reason whatsoever to be as “obsessed” with Beyoncé’s husband as she is in Obsessed); however, Close’s Oscar-nominated performance in Fatal Attraction is more complex than Walter’s histrionics in Play Misty for Me, and, thus, more realistic, more “this-could-happen-to-you,” more haunting. Anne Archer’s fantastic turn as Beth Gallagher, Dan’s wife, was also nominated that year, but Michael Douglas (speaking of the wife he met through Steven Soderbergh’s stellar Traffic (2000), Catherine Zeta-Jones, and her “YAAAASSSS”-worthy Oscar for Chicago) wasn’t, and I don’t think I’ll ever understand that; between this, his femme fatale-lovin’ antihero in Paul Verhoeven’s underrated Basic Instinct (1992), and his Oscar-winninggreed is good” role in Oliver Stone’s Wall Street (1987, waaaay more artistically justifiable than Scorsese’s headache-stirring The Wolf of Wall Street (2013) – sorry, not sorry), Douglas’s “flawed character” acting persona is perfect for the part of Dan, who you want to see suffer for his infidelity as much as you want to watch Alex lose, which fills Fatal Attraction up with pleasures on both sides of the narrative dynamic, and Lyne – who went on to direct the wife-cheats-on-her-husband-and-the-husband-is-the-murderous-one companion piece, Unfaithful (2002) – is the perfect filmmaker for this “can’t-turn-away” psychological thriller.

 

  1. Brian De Palma’s Carrie (1976)

 

Sissy Spacek's Oscar-nominated turn as Carrie White
Sissy Spacek as Carrie White in Brian De Palma’s “Carrie” (1976). (Photo Courtesy: Wikpedia).

One of the few good adaptations to be made out of a Stephen King novel (the “King” of Horror’s debut, no less – his name is misspelled in the credits as “Steven”), Carrie isn’t as “scary” for me as it is “tragic.” The flawlessly executed prom scene, the crown jewel of the entire production, brings nostalgic tears to my eyes every time. It’s a monster movie without a monster; if I were Carrie White (Sissy Spacek), and I had one happy moment for the first and only time in my miserable life (that moment being “prom queen,” pathetically enough), and those people ruined it for me, just like they ruined everything else, I’d be vengeful, too.

 

  1. David Fincher’s Gone Girl (2014)

 

Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike
Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike at the New York Film Festival premiere of David Fincher’s “Gone Girl” (2014). (Photo Courtesy: Wikipedia).

A modern Hitchcockian mystery, Gone Girl violates genre conventions in the same way that the “Master of Suspense” does in Psycho (1960): halfway through, Hitch kills off the protagonist when we expect her to see us all the way to the end of the drama, and Fincher turns his “missing-wife-suspicious-husband” Lifetime movie into the fairytale love story from Hell; nothing is sacred and nothing is safe. The body count is low in Gone Girl – one – and nobody gets graphically tortured, even in its most violent moments, but it’s still darker and more unsettling than many of its contemporaries. In the end, Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) and Amy Elliot (Rosamund Pike) finally get their happily ever after, their unconditional love, their perfect marriage, but only because one is too scared to disappoint the other, and if that doesn’t get you to shudder a nervous laugh, then you really are desensitized.

 

  1. James Cameron’s Titanic (1997)

 

Titanic
The ship breaking in two during the sinking sequence of James Cameron’s “Titanic” (1997). (Photo Courtesy: Wikipedia).

Titanic proves all the Hollywood cynics wrong – it isn’t based on a comic book, it has no chance of being franchised into a sequel, and it isn’t a remake of anything, but the studios still gave it a big enough budget for it to tell its own story well, and it made history at the box office and at the Oscars. Old, classical Hollywood isn’t dead – it’s still very much alive in the spectacular, romantic love story between the star-crossed Rose DeWitt Bukater (superstar talent Kate Winslet) and Jack Dawson (Leonardo DiCaprio). That’s the reason people paid to go see the movies, even during the impoverishment of the Great Depression in the 1930s, and that’s why Hollywood is the Rome of the Americas, artistically and culturally; when a movie’s good, there’s nothing better, and a good movie, if not a “great” one, can be as easy to achieve as standing on the bow of the RMS Titanic at sunset with your arms opened wide.

 

  1. William Friedkin’s The Exorcist (1973)

 

Linda Blair, "The Exorcist"
Linda Blair as Regan Teresa MacNeil in William Friedkin’s “The Exorcist” (1973). (Photo Courtesy: Wikipedia).

The Exorcist is cinema in its purest form. The acting, the special effects, and the story all come together to blur the line between fantasy and reality in a way that no other storytelling medium can. Like Carrie, it’s a horror movie that doesn’t “horrify” me all that much, but even though its battle between “good” and “evil” takes place in a twelve-year-old girl’s bedroom, it’s still biblical in proportion; with cinema, anything’s possible, and even the smallest things in life can be blown up on the silver screen for us to marvel at – Auguste and Louis Lumière make beauty, art, and innovation out of the mundane with their Workers Leaving the Lumière Factory (1895), and such was the historically recognized birth of cinema.

 

  1. Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill (2003)

 

Uma Thurman in "Kill Bill"
Uma Thurman as The Bride, a.k.a. Black Mamba, a.k.a. Beatrix Kiddo, a.k.a. “Mommy,” in Quentin Tarantino’s “Kill Bill: Volume 1” (2003). (Photo Courtesy: Wikipedia).

Kill Bill is a patchwork of many different movies, but it’s also unlike any movie you’re ever going to see. It’s Tarantino’s trademark violence at its most cathartic, as The Bride (Uma Thurman) uses her talent for murder to get back at those who wronged her, then ultimately renounces her bloody past. It makes no sense in the “real” world, but it makes perfect sense in the “movie” world, which we can recognize from the other side of the camera and access as our own, and get lost in this edited, aestheticized, better version of reality.

 

  1. Sir Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo (1958)

 

Kim Novak, "Vertigo"
Kim Novak as “Madeleine Elster” in Sir Alfred Hitchcock’s masterpiece, “Vertigo” (1958). (Photo Courtesy: Wikipedia).

No matter how many times you see Vertigo, or how long you think about it, there’s still something new to discover every time. The greatest film ever shot by the greatest director who ever lived and worked, Vertigo is as mysterious as the plot at its heart, and, like Detective John “Scottie” Ferguson (Jimmy Stewart), we’re challenged to find the truth, but the truth is that we’re being set up to believe in a lie, lies like “death” and “the past,” lies which may not tangibly exist but are still as inevitable as the gravity separating Scottie’s fear of heights from the fall to his death (or his fall into madness… or his falling in love…). Vertigo is Hitchcock’s most personal film, one of the great works of art of the twentieth century, and just as full of endless life as it is of universal death.

I may stop writing here, but I’ll never stop watching (or loving) movies. As different as these titles are from one another, they’re all the same in the truths they teach us about the world, and about ourselves. Beauty is everywhere, even beauty we can’t see.

You’ve just got to get it on camera.

Top 10 great filmmakers

Filmmaking is a collaborative medium where a number of different personalities harmonize together on a single project. As with any symphony, a group is only as good as its conductor. As I approach the end of this blog, here are ten directors who provide that unifying element of genius throughout their decorated filmographies.

 

  1. Hayao Miyazaki

 

Hayao Miyazaki, 2008
Hayao Miyazaki at the 2008 Venice Film Festival. (Photo Courtesy: Wikipedia).

The “Walt Disney of Japan,” in a lot of ways, surpasses Disney. Miyazaki’s animated features are family-friendly (except for Princess Mononoke (1997), that is) without being condescending, and his storytelling style is distinctly Japanese without resorting to the post-Pokémon  cartoonishness of anime that Western audiences have come to expect. In any culture, at any age, there’s a lot to be learned from Miyazaki, and even more to marvel at in his cinematic skillset.

MASTERPIECE: Spirited Away (2001)

 

  1. Ernst Lubitsch

 

Ernst Lubitsch, 1922
Ernst Lubitsch in 1922. (Photo Courtesy: Wikipedia).

Known for his “Lubitsch Touch,” this German-born artist in the Golden Age of old, classical Hollywood was an auteur before “auteur theory” was even a thing. It’s a topic of scholarly debate as to what, precisely, makes films like Trouble in Paradise (1932) so unique in the experience you get from watching it, not just in the content itself; whatever the answer to that question may be for you, Lubitsch is the quintessential example of a European Jew who fled to the United States during World War II and helped turn young Hollywood into a cultural touchstone on par with the ancient historical landmarks in his own home continent, and influenced generations to come after him. His romantic comedies are actually romantic, they’re actually comedic, in an intelligent, important way, and you walk away from them feeling starstruck, which is the purest effect of cinema imaginable.

MASTERPIECE: Ninotchka (1939)

 

  1. Joel and Ethan Coen
The Coen Brothers, 2001
Ethan Coen (left) and Joel Coen (right) at the 2001 Cannes Film Festival. (Photo Courtesy: Wikipedia).

 

Even their weaker efforts are a scream to watch. Raising Arizona (1987) got a one-and-a-half-star-out-of-four rating from film critic Roger Ebert, whereas Fargo (1996) was an Academy Awards darling. Either way, the Coen Brothers’ quirky charm is inimitable, and unbeatable.

MASTERPIECE: No Country for Old Men (2007)

 

  1. Martin Scorsese

 

Martin Scorsese, 2010
Marty Scorsese at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival. (Photo Courtesy: Wikipedia).

Marty Scorsese is a film scholar, but it takes more than just a knowledge of film to produce the work that he does – it takes talent, and the marriage of academia and artistry is the breeding ground for cinematic genius. Cape Fear (1991) is one of the hardest times I’ve ever had watching a movie because that’s just how intense it is, and Casino (1995), though a derivative work of his own GoodFellas (1990), is proof that his formula works, no matter what context it’s in. His creative partnership with editor Thelma Schoonmaker has resulted in some of the most exciting unions ever between image and sound, between image and image, and that’s what moviemaking is all about.

MASTERPIECE: GoodFellas (1990)

 

  1. Christopher Nolan

 

Christopher Nolan, 2013
Christopher Nolan in London, 2013. (Photo Courtesy: Wikipedia).

In Memento (2000) and Inception (2010), Nolan achieves the rare feat of taking a truly innovative concept and making it watchable. He also gets bonus points from me for his use of practical effects in an industry so oversaturated with CGI that the movies may look more “real,” but they feel more “fake.”  Part of why I hate Interstellar (2014) so much is because it’s such a pretentious piece from an otherwise unpretentious-but-still-brilliant artist, and so is the Nolan-produced Man of Steel (2013); let us hope that this superstar of his generation will leave behind the legacy he’s earned and not a parody of it.

MASTERPIECE: The Dark Knight (2008)

 

  1. James Cameron

 

James Cameron, June 2014
James Cameron in June 2014. (Photo Courtesy: Wikipedia).

Save for his paycheck debut, Piranha II: The Spawning (1981), all of Jim Cameron’s movies have been consistently high-quality. Say what you will about the originality of Avatar (2009), but y’all still went out and paid for the movie tickets that made it the highest-grossing motion picture ever released (not adjusted for inflation), and y’all did it for a reason. His texts may not be “works of art” in the strictest sense of the term, but, hey, filmmaking got its start in the  late nineteenth century, when carnivals reigned supreme in the Western world as a form of popular entertainment, so “showmanship” and “spectacle” are as “cinematic” as anything else.

MASTERPIECE: Titanic (1997)

 

  1. Brian De Palma

 

Brian De Palma, 2007
Brian De Palma in 2007. (Photo Courtesy: Wikipedia).

De Palma shamelessly and unapologetically worships style over substance, so much so that his style is the substance. Titles like Dressed to Kill (1980) and Blow Out (1981) are so full of techniques blatantly “borrowed” from other directors – Sir Alfred Hitchcock, Francis Ford Coppola, and Michelangelo Antonioni in particular – that they’re infused with the richness of many different films in one, some of the greatest ever made (Hitchcock’s “Big Three:” Rear Window (1954), Vertigo (1958), and Psycho (1960); Antonioni’s Blow Up (1966); Coppola’s The Conversation (1974)). I could write for paragraphs about De Palma, because I could write for paragraphs about each one of his “mentors” – suffice to say, you can’t look away from a De Palma, and you can’t stop thinking about a De Palma, even if you don’t understand why you can’t, even if it doesn’t make rational, cognitive sense, and that visceral, otherworldly logic is axiomatically faithful to the spirit of fiction, and the spirit of the cinema.

MASTERPIECE: Carrie (1976)

 

  1. Stanley Kubrick

 

Stanley Kubrick, 1971
Stanley Kubrick in 1971. (Photo Courtesy: Wikipedia).

Obsessive and neurotic, Kubrick’s mise-en-scène is as detailed as a painting, and his camerawork is as measured as a concerto (much to the detriment of his actors). Human beings and real life may not occur in this cold, controlled vision of the world, but Kubrick’s darkness shines more light on the truths about human nature and the human condition than our blindingly chaotic universe is open to reveal by itself.  With a penchant for literature and genre experimentation, Kubrick’s filmmaking teams probably would’ve been happier if he’d isolated his demanding ambitions to the solitude of writing, but he challenged them to rise to the standards of his artistry, and, together, they created classic after classic after classic.

MASTERPIECE: A Clockwork Orange (1971)

 

  1. Quentin Tarantino
Quentin Tarantino, 2014
Quentin Tarantino at in Paris at the Cesar Awards, March 2014. (Photo Courtesy: Wikipedia).

 

The antithesis to Martin Scorsese, Tarantino didn’t go to film school, but, instead, educated himself, just by watching the movies at the video store where he worked and touring the Los Angeles grindhouse and exploitation theatrical circuit. Ironically, his influences are less “artistic” than Brian De Palma’s (kung fu imports from Hong Kong and low-budget Spaghetti Westerns), yet Tarantino is the more “artistic” postmodern director. It’s not style over substance, it’s style and substance, and this alchemic ability to imbue “low-culture” source material (samurai epics) with “high-culture” meaning (nonlinear metanarratives) makes Tarantino the most exciting director working today and The Hateful Eight (2015) one of my most anticipated films of the year.

MASTERPIECE: Kill Bill (2003)

 

  1. Sir Alfred Hitchcock

 Si

Alfred Hitchcock, 1955
Sir Alfred Hitchcock in a studio publicity photo, 1955. (Photo Courtesy: Wikipedia).

The greatest filmmaker who ever lived, Hitchcock is responsible for the greatest film ever made: Vertigo (1958). To the casual moviegoer, he’s the “Master of Suspense,” the go-to for mysteries and thrillers. For film critics, he’s an endlessly complex study, a thematic romantic with Gothic overtones, a director who had his peak period in 1950s and 1960s Hollywood but whose best works (the mesmerizingly obsessive driving scenes in Vertigo, the dialogue-less shower scene in Psycho) harken back to his roots in the silent-era British studio system; Hitchcock understood that sitting silently in a dark movie theater is the only chance we ever get to indulge in the voyeuristic and morbid fantasies we all keep secret, to explore the curiosities we have with other people and ourselves, since, in the end, we’re all we’re ever going to have, and for that reason, as well as his status as a pop culture icon, he’s not only the top filmmaker of all time, but he’s also one of the great artists of the twentieth century in this part of the world.

MASTERPIECE: Vertigo (1958)

Top 10 movie characters

What I noticed while compiling this list is that most of these characters are women, and almost all of them are villains. Our culture rarely misinterprets “vulnerability” as “weakness” when it comes to masculinity, and the antagonist of a story, the one who introduces the conflict, is oftentimes the most watchable. I wish this list could be “Top Fifty,” but ain’t nobody got time fo dat, so, without further ado, here are my top ten movie characters of all time.

 

  1. Regina George, Mark Waters’s Mean Girls (2004)

 

Rachel McAdams’s breakthrough role is so unapologetically bitchy and catty, she’s pure evil. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Mean Girls is to screenwriter Tina Fey what the Divine Comedy is to Dante. This high school comedy is as timeless and universal as it is because it takes on an epic structure with its tale of Cady Heron (Lindsay Lohan) selling her soul to Rachel McAdams’s Devil, and having to claw her way back out of Hell again.

 

  1. Rose DeWitt Bukater, James Cameron’s Titanic (1997)

 

Most analysts attribute the gargantuan critical and commercial success of Cameron’s star-crossed historical romance to Leonardo DiCaprio’s Jack Dawson, but it’s Kate Winslet and Gloria Stuart’s Academy Award-nominated portrayals of Rose that really give this film heart (or Heart of the Ocean, if you will). Winslet, one of the most talented actresses of her generation in her breakout hit, plays Rose as a post-Victorian princess who blossoms from being saved by Jack, to saving him, to ultimately saving herself. Stuart, as Rose in the present day, is a woman who only got to spend a couple of days with the love of her life, but who loves him still, eight decades later.

 

  1. Alexander DeLarge, Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange (1971)

 

The ultraviolent Alex is not a likable antihero, but, as soon as we find ourselves arrested by that gaze in the opening shot of him staring into the camera, we know we’re his, whether we like it or not. Malcolm McDowell is not only capable of pulling off “the Kubrick stare,” the auteur’s penchant for framing absolute madness in close-up, but he also makes you feel sorry for Alex, even after the teenager rapes and murders out of boredom in this surrealistic, dystopian vision of the future. Alex is just an unfortunate, inevitable product of human nature – sometimes, people are bad – but the powers that be force him to go against that very nature, rather than isolate him and his antisocial personality away from society, and turn him loose on people who haven’t forgotten what he’s done and who don’t care that he’s “cured;” is he really the only monster here?

 

  1. Amy Elliot-Dunne, David Fincher’s Gone Girl (2014)

 

In a movie where someone like Ben Affleck is cast as the male lead, a lot of decision-making must have gone on behind the casting of the comparatively unknown Rosamund Pike as the titular “gone girl.” This perversion of the real-life Scott and Laci Peterson “missing wife, suspicious husband” media narrative has Pike play two parts: every domestic violence victim we’ve ever seen before, and a “femme fatale” like we’ve never seen before. For her efforts, Pike was rightly applauded with an Oscar nomination this year.

 

  1. Alexandra Forrest, Adrian Lyne’s Fatal Attraction (1987)

 

Glenn Close’s classic, Oscar-nominated performance as an unstable woman scorned is so powerful that psychiatrists refer to her fictional character as an example of borderline personality disorder. Alex is obsessive and violent, prone to self-mutilation and animal cruelty, but, through it all, you’ve got to kind of sympathize with her on some level for wanting to get back at the married Dan Gallagher (Michael Douglas), who uses her like she’s his sex toy then treats her like she doesn’t even exist because he loves his wife, Beth (the Oscar-nominated Anne Archer), enough to keep her, but not enough to remain faithful to her. She’s not going to be ignored.

 

  1. Catherine Tramell, Paul Verhoeven’s Basic Instinct (1992)

 

Speaking of Michael Douglas and his homicidal love interests… Sharon Stone’s star-making turn as the quintessential “femme fatale” is shamelessly cinematic, even in the dismal 2006 sequel. Catherine Tramell is rich, beautiful, brilliant, and looks so cool smoking a cigarette that scriptwriter Joe Eszterhas (who was paid more for this movie than any other writer in history) regrets glamourizing the bad habit after his throat cancer diagnosis. Even from beyond the screen, Catherine Tramell is deadly seductive.

 

  1. Judy Barton/Madeleine Elster/Carlotta Valdes, Sir Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo (1958)

 

Kim Novak has got to be one of the most gorgeous blondes who’s ever lived or died, but her performance in the greatest film ever made by the greatest director who ever worked is based upon so much more than just her looks; more like three characters’ worth of complexity. She’s so different as Judy than she is as Madeleine (who’s “possessed” by Carlotta much like Judy is “possessed” by Madeleine) that you’re as convinced they’re separate people as Detective John “Scottie” Ferguson (a never-better Jimmy Stewart) is. Novak’s acting was grossly misunderstood in its day, but her character within a character within another character isn’t quite meant to be understood, either.

 

  1. The Bride/Black Mamba/Beatrix Kiddo/Mommy, Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill (2003)

 

The Woman with No Name,” Uma Thurman slays the scene and everybody else in it in Tarantino’s self-proclaimed “magnum opus.” A new species of parasitic wasp was named after the fictional assassin in 2013 because that’s how much ass she kicks. We know next to nothing about her past or why she chooses to become a contract killer, but we don’t have to in order to understand her ferocious quest for revenge – she’s the warrior inside us all.

 

  1. Pazuzu/Regan Teresa MacNeil, William Friedkin’s The Exorcist (1973)

 

Linda Blair’s Oscar-nominated acting, Mercedes McCambridge’s transformative voice work, and Eileen Dietz’s heart-stopping makeup all come together to form evil incarnate in the body of a twelve-year-old girl. Blair suffered a permanent spinal injury during the scene when the demon takes possession of Regan, and McCambridge’s son went on to kill his entire family and then himself in 1987. Whether the bad luck is coincidental or the result of a curse, Pazuzu has the power to enter your home and invade your soul.

 

  1. The Joker, Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight (2008)

 

Twenty-eight-year-old Australian actor Heath Ledger became the terroristic Joker so completely that he lost sleep over it and fatally overdosed  on sleeping pills before the film’s release. It posthumously earned him the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. The debate rages over who’s the better Joker, Jack Nicholson in Tim Burton’s Batman (1989) or Ledger in The Dark Knight, and, if Nicholson is truer to the original comic book supervillain, then Ledger’s interpretation is better than The Joker.

Top 10 great film composers ever

Film is an exceptional medium in that it is as auditory as it is visual. Music can make all the difference between something “beautiful” and something “cinematic.” In recognition of that, here are ten movie composers I can’t get out of my head.

 

  1. John Williams

 

Williams is so iconic, it’s almost cliché to include him on a list like this. Notwithstanding, his scores for Star Wars, Jaws, E.T., Indiana Jones, Superman, Home Alone, Jurassic Park, Schindler’s List, Harry Potter, and many, many more, are as legendary as the texts themselves. A musician is lucky to have one success to his or her name, but I guarantee you that Williams’s work immediately started playing in your mind for each of these titles as you read them.

 

  1. Danny Elfman

 

Elfman is to Tim Burton what John Williams is to Steven Spielberg or George Lucas. Accordingly, his compositions are more “theatrical” where Williams’s are more “epic.” He breathes life into even the most bleak of his projects, including Errol Morris’s The Unknown Known: The Life and Times of Donald Rumsfeld (2013).

 

  1. Atticus Ross and Trent Renzor

 

These two share a spot because their creative partnership earned them the Academy Award for Best Music (Original Score) with David Fincher’s The Social Network (2010) and the Grammy Award for Best Score Soundtrack for Visual Media with Fincher’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011). Fincher has an eye for literary adaptations, and an ear for music. Ross and Renzor’s accompaniment for Gone Girl (2014) is atmospheric and chilling, and unjustly snubbed at this year’s Oscars.

 

  1. Hans Zimmer

 

When a composer and a director team up, they establish a relationship as rhythmic as the music they put to film. Zimmer has produced for Christopher Nolan music that’s as modern and edgy as The Dark Knight Trilogy and Inception (2010). He’s arguably the most influential cinematic composer working today – his influence can be heard everywhere, even in movie trailers.

 

  1. Jerry Goldsmith

 

Goldsmith had an affinity for neo-noir. Roman Polanski’s Chinatown (1974) and Curtis Hanson’s L.A. Confidential (1997) are two notable examples. My personal favorite is Paul Verhoeven’s Basic Instinct (1992), with a theme that’s as seductive and sinister as its classic villain.

 

  1. Pino Donaggio

 

A frequent Brian De Palma collaborator, Donaggio scored Carrie (1976), Dressed to Kill (1980), and Blow Out (1981). Body Double (1984) is a standout. Its new wave soundtrack is the mesmerizing highlight of an otherwise mediocre film.

 

  1. James Horner

 

Horner is in touch with his classical Celtic roots at the same time as he progresses into a more “sci-fi” realm. Examples are Cocoon, Aliens, Apollo 13, and Avatar. James Cameron’s Titanic (1997) is his masterpiece, winning him one of the picture’s record-setting eleven Oscars and choking us up every time.

 

  1. Max Steiner

 

The Austrian-born Steiner conducted his first operetta when he was twelve and began full-time work as a professional composer and conductor when he was fifteen. Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack’s King Kong (1933) as well as Michael Curtiz’s Casablanca (1942) are among the three hundred scores he’s written. “The Father of Film Music” raises goosebumps seventy-six years later in Victor Fleming’s Gone with the Wind (1939).

 

  1. Ennio Morricone

 

Morricone is a man of vast range. His romanticism comes across in Giuseppe Tornatore’s Nuovo Cinema Paradiso (1988) and his gritty, spaghetti Western chops are showcased in Sergio Leone’s Dollars Trilogy. He’s enjoyed a resurgence on the soundtrack for Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill, and I couldn’t choose just one of his greatest hits, so I picked two.

 

  1. Bernard Herrmann

 

Herrmann died doing what he loved; on Christmas Eve 1975, he came home from finishing up Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver and passed away in his sleep. He was one of the great musical geniuses of the twentieth century, responsible for everything from “Twisted Nerve” (the Kill Bill whistle song) to Sir Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960). It’s Hitchcock’s own Vertigo (1958), the best movie of all time, where his talent is on fullest display, a piece of music which raises us to the same dizzying heights and plunges us to the same bottomless depths as the thematic whirlpool of obsession at the heart of the Master of Suspense’s masterwork.

10 terrible movies

This will be my last week of posting to this blog; it’s simply become too exhausting and time-consuming to produce content every weekday about film while keeping it relevant to current events in the industry. This isn’t to say that I’ll stop for good, but it won’t be with any more regularity by any means, and, so, I’ll spend our final week together compiling my definitive “Top Ten” lists. This list was difficult to limit to ten – I so want to take the torch to Brad Anderson’s The Call (2014), Christopher B. Landon’s Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones (2014), and Scott Derrickson’s Deliver Us from Evil (2014) – but I did my best (which is more than can be said for the makers of these films).

Here are ten of my most hated movies.

 

  1. Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar (2014)

 

This movie isn’t “terrible” so much as it is “overrated,” but it’s so overrated that I just have to prove y’all wrong every chance I get.  It’s a major disappointment, coming from a director’s filmography that includes Memento (2000), The Dark Knight (2008), and Inception (2010), movies which are intelligent without being pretentious, entertaining without “the-special-effects-look-good-so-the-movie-itself-must-be-good” claptrappery. Interstellar fails at what Nolan normally gets right, but, it’s a “mind f*ck,” so it’s automatically “brilliant” (even though a “mind f*ck” can be as easy as throwing scientific concepts at a popcorn-chewing audience until you trick them into believing they’re watching your “masterpiece”).

 

  1. Frank Perry’s Mommie Dearest (1981)

 

Don’t get me wrong – I love me some Mommie Dearest, as a (very) guilty pleasure. Perry singlehandedly makes a laughingstock out of Christina Crawford’s controversial claims in her memoir that her adoptive mother, “Old Hollywood” superstar Joan Crawford, was a psychotically abusive monster. Faye Dunaway’s career-ending performance as Joan lights up the mise-en-scène in a way like you’ve never seen either screen queen before, Dunaway or Crawford, in between long and boring drags of Christina’s childhood (Joan is the only interesting thing about any of it), but one transcendent acting job in an entire cast of characters does not a good movie make, especially when the filmmaker relies so much on that transcendence that Dunaway becomes the crown jewel of unintentional hilarity in this less-than-mediocre picture.

 

  1. Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel (2013)

 

Along with Interstellar, this Christopher Nolan-produced Superman flick raises concerns that this talented artist peaked with Inception and is now becoming a self-serious parody of himself. Henry Cavill’s interpretation of Clark Kent features all the humanity of Christian Bale’s Batman in Nolan’s The Dark Knight Trilogy, but, maybe, the lightning in a bottle that is “comic book superheroes with a dark side” isn’t meant to strike twice. The Dark Knight Trilogy is epic and watchable, but Man of Steel is overlong and morally opposed to having any fun whatsoever.

 

  1. Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 3 (2007)

 

Third installments are bound to stumble when a series peaks halfway through – the same thing happened between The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises (2012). However, Spider-Man 3 does far worse than fall short of its genius predecessor, Spider-Man 2 (2004). It’s not “disappointing;” it’s objectively “awful,” whether it exists in a state of state of constant comparison or on its own.

 

  1. Ben Stiller’s Tropic Thunder (2008)

 

THIS MOVIE ISN’T FUNNY. I know the rest of my generation thinks so, but they’re wrong. Also, Robert Downey Junior really got an Academy Awards nomination for playing blackface?

Really?

 

  1. Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers (1994)

 

Stylistically unwatchable and moralistically self-important, this movie is so horrible that it played a role in the Columbine High School massacre. You’re not satirizing media violence when you glamorize media violence. The only reason this thing got any hype at all is because it goes against the grain, therefore, it must be “deep;” if only Quentin Tarantino had done more with it than write the story…

 

  1. James DeMonaco’s The Purge (2013)

 

Unless you’re making Alien, you can only be “sci-fi” or “horror,” not both. When the year 2022 comes and goes and The Purge doesn’t happen, it’ll become instantly dated. It depends so much on its outlandish premise that it’s inaccessible.

 

  1. Johannes Roberts’s F (or The Expelled, 2010)

 

My roommate and I made the mistake of renting this British horror film from Redbox one Friday evening. All it’s good for is an accidental laugh. It tries so hard to be “dark” and “mysterious” that key plot points go unresolved and the characters are even more unlikable than the people who off them.

 

  1. John Wayne, Ray Kellogg, and Mervyn LeRoy’s The Green Berets (1968)

 

This one ranks as high as it does because of its moral reprehensibility. It is a pro-Vietnam War propaganda piece that was made at a time when Americans needed then more than ever before to know the truth about the conflict. Unlike Leni Riefenstahl’s pro-Nazi Triumph of the Will (1935), which finds its only redeeming quality in the fact that it’s well-crafted cinema, or D.W. Griffith’s pro-Ku Klux Klan The Birth of a Nation (1915), The Green Berets isn’t even passable moviemaking.

 

  1. Tommy Wiseau’s The Room (2003)

 

The Room poster
Directed by Tommy Wiseau, produced by Tommy Wiseau, written by Tommy Wiseau, and STARRING Tommy Wiseau, (literally who even IS Tommy Wiseau? Don’t ask me, no one knows), “The Room” (2003) is in a class all its own. (Photo Courtesy: Wikipedia).

How could I possibly choose anything else for the top spot? The Citizen Kane of bad movies, this is the worst movie ever made, which makes it the best movie ever made. Don’t watch it by yourself – just like soldiers bond after serving in the trenches together, moviegoers connect after witnessing The Room together (what even is the room that the title is referring to? The world may never know…).

Shakespearean influences in “Mean Girls”

William Shakespeare
The “Chandos portrait” of William Shakespeare (1564-1616) at the National Portrait Gallery in London. Both the artist AND the authenticity of this iconic portrait remain inconclusive. (Photo Courtesy: Wikipedia).

Today is William Shakespeare’s birthday (and also the anniversary of his death, an irony I’m sure he would have appreciated, had he survived it). His name has become synonymous with mastery of the English letters, and his influence is everywhere. James Cameron’s Titanic (1997), for example, features star-crossed lovers (Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet) with the same initials (Jack and Rose) as Romeo and Juliet, and I’m sure this is your quadrillionth time reading about how The Lion King is a derivative work of Hamlet (and Kimba the White Lion, but we won’t get into that right here, right now – Google it).

Mark Waters’s Mean Girls (2004) is another Shakespearean text, not so much one of his “tragedies” as it is one of his “comedies,” and Tina Fey (Sharon Norbury) was just the screenwriter and actress to pull it all off. She is a comedic genius, one of the greatest alumni of all time from NBC’s long-running variety show, Saturday Night Live (1975-), easily ranking among John Belushi and Will Ferrell. Other SNL veterans who helped make Mean Girls a high school classic are Amy Poehler (Mrs. George), Tim Meadows (Principal Ron Duvall), and SNL creator and showrunner Lorne Michaels as the producer.

One obvious reference to Shakespeare takes place during Gretchen Wieners’s (Lacey Chabert) Julius Caesar rant. Other, more subtle nods to the Bard exist in his and Fey’s shared penchant for misunderstandings (the coveted Aaron Samuels (Jonathan Bennett) misinterprets hero Cady Heron’s (Lindsay Lohan) makeover as an attempt to emulate the villainous Regina George (Rachel McAdams), rather than to destroy her), as well as their mutual love for comedies of manners (“Ex-boyfriends are just off-limits to friends – I mean, that’s just, like, the rules of feminism!”). As for Shakespeare’s more tragic elements, Mean Girls also explores the themes of culpability on display in Macbeth (my favorite Shakespeare play), when Cady must own up to the responsibility of the “Burn Book,” even though she’s not the one who created it.

Most people don’t watch Mean Girls and think about Shakespeare, but it just goes to show how timeless and ubiquitous he is. For that same reason, Mean Girls is just as timeless and ubiquitous today as it was ten years ago. It’s as much a “divine comedy” about Cady Heron selling her soul to the Devil as it is a star vehicle for Lindsay Lohan, who went on to do exactly that only a few years later.

For that and many more reasons, William Shakespeare and Tina Fey will forever be “so fetch.”