Dave ‘Wisely’ Mitchell is a Wellington based Film & Theatre Producer /Director, Film Blogger & Humankind Enthusiast. Having blogged about films for a number of years and written many a ‘top list’ he found it refreshing to look at what stood the test of time for him both as a practitioner and appreciator of the medium that is film. (His regular film blog is here) and here are five films that have stayed with him…
1 – Barton Fink: For me Barton Fink was the film that started it all, the genesis of a thought that developed into an idea, an idea that started me on a journey through the shadows of my creativity. Somewhere into the third act of my first viewing of Barton Fink it suddenly all made sense. Don’t get me wrong, the film baffled me, but I had an epiphany of sorts: all at once I knew that film making wasn’t a formula, it was an art form. It became apparent that narrative, tone and pacing weren’t learnt they were instinctive and that a director wasn’t an instructor he or she was a composer orchestrating an almost impossible number of elements into the most harmonious tapestry of sound, light, energy and talent. Seeing Barton Fink and discovering The Coen Brothers for me represented a realisation that I wanted to explore a world of Film Making. I wanted to understand what was below the surface, and I needed to seek out and absorb more than what I knew to exist.
2 – Army of Darkness: You really have to be a cult horror fan to really appreciate what director Sam Raimi has created with the Evil Dead series. The genre is not going to please all; in fact I assume parents everywhere rued its creation. That said within certain circles of cinematic geekdom, Army of Darkness is kind of a big deal. It wasn’t until a film friend introduced me to the genre that I became aware Evil Dead and its star Bruce Campbell existed. The third instalment in the Evil Dead series (and in my humblest of opinions by far the best), Army of Darkness departs from the gratuitous violence of its preceding films, relying instead on outrageously silly slapstick humour, cliché one liners, and goofy exaggerations of medieval warfare. Bruce Campbell is the quintessential hero. Most likely if you don’t know him by name you will recognise his distinctly chiselled chin and ridiculously excessive American accent. His body of work was summed up best by his biography, If Chins Could Kill, Confessions of a B Movie Actor, a brilliant book for any film buff – highly recommended.
3 – Manhattan: Aside from having some of his best writing, 1979’s Manhattan is by far the most aesthetically complete of Woody Allen’s works. You just need to look at 1977’s Annie Hall to get a sense of how much more refined his visual direction had become in only two short years. The gritty film stock used to shoot Annie Hall combined with the old 4:3 ratio, crash zooms and whip pans has almost an amateurish adult movie feel, and when compared to Manhattan’s crisp black and white imagery and high production value it’s clear visually the films are worlds apart. Not to hate on Annie Hall, after all it is a classic and Manhattan in all its glory would have been unlikely without Annie Hall’s critical and commercial success. I have to assume that this opened doors for Woody, in the process legitimising his craft and giving him access to better technology and technicians. This would explain the left field but inspired choice of visionary cinematographer Gordon Willis, the man behind Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather. Manhattan’s exterior photography is at times breath-taking. Truly as the film’s title suggests, Manhattan is a love letter to the city of New York. New York at times is akin to a greedy co-star that immerses itself into almost every scene given the faintest of foot holds. Aside from 1978’s Interiors and 2011’s Midnight in Paris, there are few Woody Allen films that I have enjoyed as much as Manhattan.
4 – Mary and Max: Quite unlike any live action film I’ve seen, Adam Elliot’s beautifully hand crafted Claymation feature Mary And Max tugs at the heart strings in pretty much every way possible. The unlikeliest of buddy movies goes beyond the pretences of animation, moving a predominately child centric genre into the adult world – a world that dares to confront the darkness that surrounds substance abuse, love, mental health, and of course, mimes. To truly feel for small lumps of moulded clay isn’t an easy thing. Stranger still is the narrative vehicle that takes us on the journey. One could be forgiven for dismissing the friendship between a small girl from Australia with self-esteem issues and a broken home and a middle aged Atheist New York Jew suffering from Asperger’s as a mismatched confuzzlement. However, the characters lovingly voiced by Toni Colette and the late Phillip Seymour Hoffman pull you into their fucked up world relentlessly asking the audience for their acceptance and companionship.
5 – The Artist: I’m besotted with this film. In a time where it’s all about who can talk the loudest without saying much, The Artist says everything by saying nothing at all. For years films like The Artist have been pigeonholed as Art-House or Indie with little to no chance of attracting anyone but the loyal cinematic connoisseurs like you or me. The novelty of The Artist’s non-existent dialogue aside, the film carries a richly fulfilling story astonishingly performed by Jean Dujardin & Bérénice Bejo. Their performances whilst spellbinding were only possible through the addition of Ludovic Bource’s beautifully tempered and exceptional score. Sometimes, but not often, I’m at loss for words. After first seeing The Artist it seemed kind of appropriate. This film launched a new wave of cinema for the masses, one that doesn’t subscribe to the formulaic approach we as mass market consumers are expected to follow, or the capitalist doctrine fiscal film-making producers force upon us. Not only is The Artist an incredible film-going experience, it was and remains at the front lines in the battle against cinematic complacency.