All Time Favorites: Films

 

True Favorites

These are the films that I’ve watched more than once (and in the case of Amelie and The Boxtrolls, watched more than ten times) and am consequently certain of their places in my all-star lineup. These are the movies that held up over multiple viewings, and in some cases, have even improved.

The Fall

Concept: A young immigrant girl is bored at a hospital and befriends an injured stuntman. He tells her a story to help pass the time, and we see that story through the lens of her vivid imagination.

vlcsnap-2015-04-04-08h52m17s49

Why I love it: This is my number one favorite film. Everything gets a little murky after this, with no discernible order to the favorites, and they often shift rank based on my mood– but this is a clear cut and unquestionable first place. The Fall has an impeccable storyline with small Easter eggs noticeable on second and third viewings. The cinematography is breathtaking and the costuming is stunning. There is an inventive narrative approach, largely thanks to utilizing the lens of the MC’s imagination, and the characterization that progresses throughout the film is impressive as can be. If you haven’t watched this film yet, then you are really and truly missing out.

Carol

Concept: Based on Patricia Highsmith’s 1952 book The Price of Salt, the film follows the story of a salesgirl who meets an older woman around the Christmas season. Hardships ensue as their relationship becomes more intimate and subsequently, more elicit.

carol cate blanchett

Why I love it: In my opinion, this film excelled in a lot of the places that Blue is the Warmest Color fell short for me. (Stay tuned for an upcoming post that will discuss the male gaze in film!) The chemistry is quietly powerful and it lends a simmering undercurrent of tension to the entire viewing. The film also showcases one of my all-time favorite uses of color theory. I’m hoping to share a full post about how it does so in the future, so for now I’ll just say that color plays as important of a role as any of the characters do. Carol is one of my favorite adaptions as well, and you can read more of my thoughts on that transition here. And last but not least, Cate Blanchett is the light of my life.

Léon: The Professional

Concept: After the death of her family, a young girl is taken in by a middle-aged assassin. Their relationship is somehow simultaneously complicated and simple, but as the story progresses, things become less clear-cut.

leon the professional

Why I love it: Honestly, I think this is a film that shouldn’t work but it somehow does. Twelve-year old Natalie Portman stuns in her first ever feature film, especially given the subject matter. What makes this film one of my favorites is the way quiet interactions take on so much meaning within the scope of this super off the wall scenario. Nothing about the situation is normal, but somehow that allows the humanity to take center stage. It’s a brilliant bit of story telling, and one that tugs on my heartstrings every single time I watch it.

The Royal Tenenbaums

Concept: A dysfunctional family undergoes an exceptionally dysfunctional and challenging period in their lives as their patriarch attempts to insert himself back into their lives.

the royal tenenbaums

Why I love it: I think everyone has a favorite Wes Anderson film. It’s hard not to. His aesthetics are magnificent and his characters are all so unique, and this film is no exception. As much as I adore Rushmore and Moonrise Kingdom, The Royal Tenenbaums will always hold a very special place in my heart. Something about the arrested development and extensive cast of characters (and the dalmatian mice, obviously) just connects with me. I once wrote an entire paper for a college course about the movie and it’s the only Anderson film I own on DVD.

Butter

Concept: A young girl in the foster care system finds an unexpected passion in carving butter. She ends up rivaling the area’s most headstrong southern belle in a regional butter sculpture competition.

butter jennifer garner hugh jackman

Why I love it: I grew up in Texas, and remember all too well the massive butter sculptures at the state fair every year (one year there was a life-sized cowboy on horseback). This film fills that very specific setting with an amazing cast: Jennifer Garner, Hugh Jackman, Oliva Wilde, and Ty Burrell. If there’s anyone I love more than Cate Blanchett, it’s Oliva Wilde. Each character has a huge personality, and somehow they all manage to mesh seamlessly with each other. It’s a very specific style of humor– it’s weird and satirical and sarcastic, and it’s quite possible that this is my very favorite comedy to date.

The Boxtrolls

Concept: An orphan boy is raised by a small group of agoraphobic trolls who collect trash. They live underground and are being hunted to extinction due to a campaign of fear and propaganda from the evil exterminator. Also, cheese.

the boxtrolls

Why I love it: It’s no secret that I love a well-executed animated film, and I think I love this one most of all. I’ve seen this feature more times than any other movie in the world, and each time it charms me in new ways. It’s witty and imaginative, and amusing without feeling trite. In a world of animated movies like Trolls and The Emoji Movie, which tend to leave plot and characterization by the wayside, Boxtrolls is a blissful haven. The cast of voice actors is sublime (especially considering Elle Fanning’s most recent voice work in Leap! left much to be desired) and the animation itself is perfectly suited to the subject matter.

Runner-ups: Amelie, Rise of the Guardians, and Cry-Baby


One of the Good Ones

These are the films that I have only watched once thus far, but that really connected with me in the first viewing. Although they struck me as sublime upon that initial viewing, I would require a re-watch to be really certain.

Paris is Burning

Concept: A documentary following the lives of the people who were largely responsible for the birth of the drag scene in the 1980s. It focuses on balls, voguing and “the ambitions and dreams of those who gave the era its warmth and vitality.”

paris is burning

Why I love it: I went through a very brief documentary phase early last year, and out of the dozen I watched, this was the only one that really connected with me. It is heartbreaking in its honesty, and there is a tangible sense of both hope and fear throughout the entire film. It is beautifully composed, but more importantly, it tells such imperative stories, both on a cultural and individual level.

Hunt for the Wilderpeople

Concept: A young boy in the foster care system gets his last chance with an older couple living in the New Zealand bush. Shenanigans (and a national manhunt) ensue.

hunt for the wilderpeople

Why I love it: I should probably preface this with saying that I adore Taika Watiti. I was introduced to him via What We Do in the Shadows, and only became further enamored with him during the course of the Team Thor shorts that were released during the Captain America: Civil War marketing campaign. I’m definitely late to the Hunt for the Wilderpeople party, having just watched it last month. But boy oh boy did it blow me away– I think I experienced the full range of human emotion throughout the hour and a half viewing time. Watiti somehow manages to meld his quirky humor with a deep sense of humanity for a story that is poignant and enjoyable.

The Handmaiden

Concept: A Japanese heiress is being courted by a conman. She has a mysterious uncle. That’s all I’m going to say because it’s a far more enjoyable viewing if you don’t know the storyline.

the handmaiden

Why I love it: Plot twists abound! It’s not very often that I come across a plot twist that fully catches me off guard, but this story kept me guessing at every turn. Chan-wook Park did a brilliant job in approaching the multiple POVs, and each of the three acts brings a new perspective to what you thought you knew. In addition, every frame is visually stunning, as are the costumes. I can’t wait to watch this a second time and see what hidden things I pick up on now that I know the storyline. This isn’t like any love story you’ve seen before.

Runner-ups: Captain Fantastic, What We Do in the Shadows, The Longest Week

Spotlight on Cinematography: Shades of Blue (round two)

the life aquatic with steve zissou
The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004) || Robert Yeoman (DP)
beetlejuice
Beetlejuice (1988) || Thomas Ackerman (DP)
charlie and the chocolate factory
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005) || Philippe Rousselot (DP)
fear and loathing in las vegas
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998) || Nicola Pecorini (DP)
la la land
La La Land (2016) || Linus Sandgren (DP)
iron man 1
Iron Man (2008) || Matthew Libatique (DP)
the royal tenenbaums
The Royal Tenenbaums (2001) || Robert Yeoman (DP)

Fashion in Film: Menswear

For someone who can’t match anything except black to white, I really do have a strange fascination with fashion. It’s something I haven’t delved too deeply into on this blog yet (although I do have the beginnings of a category for it) but it’s one of my favorite parts of an immersive film. I feel like menswear is a largely underappreciated aspect of costume design, so I thought I would take a minute to touch on some of my favorite menswear moments in film. Enjoy!


The Place Beyond the Pines || Costume Design by Erin Benach

Anyone who knows me knows that my very favorite outfit on a guy is a fitted white tee and dark blue jeans. That’s it. Whether it’s crisp and clean or slouchy and stained, there is something so simple and nonchalant about the combo that makes it feel timeless. In film, the simplicity of the outfit allows character traits and demeanors to take center stage. In The Place Beyond the Pines, Luke wears an oversized tee and acid splashed jeans that serve to make him look simultaneously tough and aloof. His devil-may-care attitude is played up by the wardrobe choice and fits seamlessly with the storyline.

place beyond the pines

Also see: Wade Walker (played by Johnny Depp) in Cry-Baby and Jim Stark (played by James Dean) in Rebel Without a Cause


Django Unchained || Costume Design by Sharen Davis

All too often, men’s costumes are reduced to monotone suits and nondescript outfits that might as well have been pulled from a department store. Thanks to costume designer Sharen Davis, however, that was the furthest thing from the case for 2012’s Django Unchained. Every wardrobe change is meaningful and feels like a step down a path of self-discovery– none of them more so than Django’s green bounty hunter garb. It is functional yet stylish, and in it, he looks like his true self: a hero.

django unchained

Also see: No one. This outfit is unparalleled.


Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them || Costume Design by Colleen Atwood

I may or may not have a thing for lanky boys with floppy hair and freckles. Bonus points if they’re a little awkward and have eyes that crinkle when they smile (I’m looking at you, Andrew Garfield). The icing on the cake of this very particular look is the outfits that they are typically paired with. In most cases this means soft sweaters and eyeglasses, but in the best cases, this means Oxford shoes and rumpled button downs. No one does this look better than the one and only Newt Scamander. A cosplayers dream, Eddie Redmayne’s costume for Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them was a tailored combination of peacock blue and mustard yellow. The layered outfit, the hemmed trousers, and the tiny bowtie somehow add to his overall vulnerability while simultaneously making him look polished and oh-so-very English. Designer Colleen Atwood says of the look: “I felt like he was a bird or one of his fantastical beasts. I wanted him to look regular in the world to pass, but also to be exceptional in a sort of subtle way.”

fantastic beasts and where to find them

Also see: Brian Johnson (played by Anthony Michael Hall) in The Breakfast Club and Ronald Miller (played by Patrick Dempsey) in Money Can’t Buy Me Love


A Streetcar Named Desire || Wardrobe by Lucinda Ballard

While certainly not the pinnacle of fashion, dirty tanks and trousers are still iconic, almost entirely thanks to Marlon Brando’s portrayal of Stanley in 1951’s A Streetcar Named Desire. Of course, that fame was largely due to the fact that Brando was a total dreamboat strutting around with his muscles rippling under a sheen of sweat.

a streetcar named desire.jpg

Also see: Donny Donowitz (played by Eli Roth) in Inglorious Basterds and Tyler Gage (played by Channing Tatum) in Step Up


Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid || Costume Design by Edith Head

Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid absolutely devastated me when I watched it in college. I’ve watched 983 movies in my lifetime (but who’s counting), and this is one of only two that had an ending that really stuck with me. The ending doesn’t have anything to do with fashion, I just had to get that out of the way. The wardrobe choices in this film are all about practicality. Every item of clothing has that soft look that comes with wearing the same exact thing every single day, and the layered clothes probably smell like sweat and sunshine. Combined with the neck bandannas and flat brimmed hats, the whole ensemble comes together realistically, but also stylishly, and that is thanks to the effortless suaveness of Robert Redford and Paul Newman. They make dusty coats and rumpled trousers look like haute couture. Cowboy chic to the max.

butch cassidy and the sundance kid

Also see: Han Solo (played by Harrison Ford) in A New Hope and Jim Craig (played by Tom Burlinson) in The Man From Snowy River


Pretty in Pink || Costume Design by Marilyn Vance

While I’m sadly not a big Molly Ringwald fan, Pretty in Pink was a high school favorite for one big reason: Ducky. I have a hunch that I might feel different if I were to rewatch it now, but at the time, I found Ducky’s loyalty and sense of humor to be downright marvelous. His fashion sense only made him seem more delightful, even though I could never quite tell if he was quirky without trying to be, or if he was actually trying really really hard. Either way, his bolo ties, layered looks, and small shades are still the absolute coolest in my book.

pretty in pink

Also see: Sing Street‘s music video ensembles.


The Great Gatsby || Costume Design by Theoni Aldredge (1974) & Catherine Martin (2012)

I suppose no list about menswear would be complete without a mention of suits. They say a bespoke suit is the male equivalent of extravagant lingerie. And whoever “they” are, they aren’t entirely wrong. There is something so divine about the crisp lines of a tailored suit. A good suit can transform the wearer, elevate the scenario, and delight the company. And no one is a better example of this than the late, great Jay Gatsby. You can take your pick between Robert Redford or Leonardo DiCaprio’s portrayal– the effect is the same. He is, after all, the man with the cool, beautiful shirts.

 

Also see: Harvey Specter (played by Gabriel Macht) in TV’s Suits and Dr. Robert Laing (played by Tom Hiddleston) in High-Rise. And James Bond, probably


The Fall || Costume Design by Eiko Ishioka

I would be truly remiss if I didn’t at least mention The Fall. I’ve talked at length about my adoration for Eiko Ishioka’s costume design, and her work on The Fall is no exception. The over the top presentation of the colors and styles are a perfect match for the rest of the film, and all of the bright primary colors work in perfect sync to create a flawless set of costumes.

the fall lineup


Runner ups include: Erik Killmonger’s hip museum outfit in Black Panther, Willy Wonka’s posh velvet suit and top hat in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Chris Hemsworth’s deep v-necks in Rush, Roux’s everything in Chocolat, Sam’s boy scout chic in Moonrise Kingdom, Ben’s red suit in Captain Fantastic, Tarzan’s loincloth, Armie Hammer’s turtlenecks in The Man from U.N.C.L.E., and Tyler Durden’s bizarrely colorful statement pieces in Fight Club.


What are some of your favorite film moments in men’s fashion? Let me know in the comments below! 

Wes Anderson and Quentin Tarantino: Same, Same; Different

Prompted by: Kill Bill: Vol 1

I’ll never forget the day I watched both volumes of Kill Bill and Moonrise Kingdom in the same night. I was introduced to Tarantino at an earlier age than I was Anderson, and have always been partial to Anderson due to my own affection for whimsy and quirkiness. But for some reason, I never made the connections between the stylistic choices of the two directors until the day I accidentally watched their films back to back.

Here’s my hypothesis: Anderson and Tarantino use the same techniques– color and symmetry– in similar ways to achieve different results.

Color

The colors that Anderson and Tarantino use are completely different, as are the moods they achieve with those colors. But both of them utilize color, both in entire palates and in specific spots, with a dedication that is not often seen. The thing about using color in film is that it isn’t always something viewers consciously pick up on (expect to see more on this in an upcoming post about color in film). The psychology of colors is a complex and extensive field of discussion, and there is no doubt that colors can both subtly and massively impact moods and feelings. Successfully utilizing certain colors to set certain moods is quite possibly one of the most clever ways to evoke feelings in film.

Tarantino uses primary colors such as red and blue in bold hues and cool tones to create emphasis on certain characters and contribute to the intensity of certain scenes. An excellent example of this is the use of the color red with Shosanna in Inglorious Basterds. When we first see her, she is running away with splashes of dark red blood on her face.

shoshanna1
Inglourious Basterds (2009)

When we see her next, she is working on the marquis for her theater. There are bold red letters in the background and she is wearing a muted red jacket.

shoshanna2
Inglourious Basterds (2009)

Her next scene features red as a significantly more dominant color: she is sitting in a bright red cafe booth and is surrounded by a vibrant shade of red.

shoshanna3
Inglourious Basterds (2009)

And by the time we finally arrive at her climactic scene, she is draped, garbed, and surrounded by red.

shoshanna4
Inglourious Basterds (2009)

The use of such a visceral and unavoidable color to slowly develop an incredibly strong and driven character is unmistakable. Tarantino’s most frequent use of red is with blood, but he often utilizes the color to evoke feelings of passion, violence, revenge, and intensity. Red is also known to enhance attention, both by drawing the eye to the color and by triggering certain feelings in the viewer. In the case of Shosanna, this works to drop increasingly more obvious hints that ‘this character is important, pay attention when she’s on screen.’

Anderson, on the other hand, uses it more often as an aesthetic focal point, while still hinting that something important is happening. An excellent example of this is with the narrator in Moonrise Kingdom. He’s simply talking about the weather, which is a very easy thing to zone out for. But by dressing him in a bright red coat and placing him in relatively colorless scenes, it helps the viewer to pay a bit more attention. Of course, anyone who has seen Moonrise Kingdom knows that the weather turns out to be a rather pivotal aspect of the entire storyline.

anderson red
Moonrise Kingdom (2012)

A similar effect is achieved through the coloring of the tracksuits in The Royal Tenenbaums. It is impossible to not be drawn to those fire-engine-red outfits, which again hints that this is something important and the viewer should take note. In this case, it is quite possibly the clearest indicator of the arrested development that the three children experienced.

track suits
Royal Tenenbaums (2001)

Anderson also plays up the passionate nature of the color red, using it to illustrate longing and deep desire, usually for affection. We can see this through the simple act of putting red hats on Suzy, Ned, and Max– all of which are desperate for the love of someone who is inaccessible in one way or another.

anderson red 3
Suzy, Moonrise Kingdom — Ned, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou — Max, Rushmore

Symmetry

Over the years, Anderson has become known for his symmetry, and it is undoubtedly one of the primary characteristics of his stylistic choices. Tarantino seems to be a bit more partial to asymmetry, often choosing to follow the rule of thirds and offsetting a character to one side of the frame.

When I was watching Moonrise Kingdom minutes after finishing both Kill Bills, it was impossible not to notice the similarities between some of the frames.

anderson room symmetry
Moonrise Kingdom (2012)
tarantino room symmetry
Kill Bill: Volume 2 (2004)

Director Stanley Kubrick is often referenced in discussions about symmetry in film, but in a very specific way. He utilizes symmetry to create unnatural and oftentimes uncomfortable frames (think about the hallway shots in The Shining). A similar effect is achieved in the living room frame from Kill Bill: Vol 2 seen above. The precision of the character’s exact separation creates a tangible sense of tension that is virtually impossible to ignore.

Anderson, on the other hand, uses symmetry for the complete opposite reason. Almost everything about the way he frames his shots, symmetrical or not, helps to create a storybook feel. The viewers are the intruders looking in on what might as well be paintings, a feeling further heightened by shots where the characters in the frame look directly at the camera, as seen in the above shot from Moonrise Kingdom.

anderson overhead symmetry
Moonrise Kingdom (2012)
tarantino overhead symmetry
Kill Bill: Volume 1 (2003)

The overhead shot from Kill Bill: Vol 1 creates tension in a different way. Rather than showcasing the amount of empty space around or between key characters, this frame highlights the lack of space that currently exists around our protagonist. The symmetry and mirror images help to build the tension of a scene that already has us on the edge of our seats.

Shot Lists

Tarantino is responsible for coining the specific shot seen below. Known as a ‘trunk shot’ they feature characters (usually two or three) opening something and looking down at the camera. It’s a creative angle that brings a unique perspective to the shot.

Trunk Shot
Kill Bill: Volume 1 (2003)

While Anderson doesn’t mimic the trunk shot exactly, he’s fond of a similar reveal: an item being suddenly moved or opened to reveal a group of characters looking directly at the camera.

anderson trunk shot
Moonrise Kingdom (2012)

Both directors also utilize wide angles, although Anderson more so than Tarantino. Wide angles help contribute to that painting-like quality I mentioned above in regards to Anderson. In the below frame from Moonrise Kingdom, Anderson pairs the wide angle and symmetry to create a rather haunting shot. This frame is an excellent example of building tension using the devices discussed above.

anderson wide angle yellow 2
Moonrise Kingdom (2012)
tarantino wide angle blue 2
Kill Bill: Volume 1 (2003)

The above frame from Kill Bill is, in my opinion, one of the most beautiful shots from a Tarantino film. Whether it was the brain child of Tarantino or of DP Robert Richardson, I’m not sure. Whatever the case may be, it is a breathtaking frame in every way and not one that is easily forgotten.

So what do you think? Do the two directors utilize the same techniques to get different results? 


Robert Richardson is the DP for all the Tarantino films referenced here, and Robert Yeoman is the DP for all of the Anderson films.