Cast Against Hype

Reflections on film and other forms of storytelling from a Swedish wannabe-storyteller…

Tag: Interstellar

No Marvel Included – My 40 Favourite Films of the Decade

Fully aware of everything I haven’t seen, these are what I consider my 40 favourite films (all categories included), released in the decade now coming to an end. An era seemingly defined by the superhero genre, which, I might add, is not represented here. Now you know. It’s not that I can’t enjoy a Marvel or DC adventure now and then, but – how many of them are truly great cinema? SPOILER ALERT 2: a few filmmakers have stood out more than others in these last ten years; Nolan. Villeneuve. Garland. Cuarón. It will show. Also, I will emphasize the difficulty in ranking these films in a particular order. The difference in quality and impact between number one and, say, 20, is not really huge. These are all works of art and storytelling that I deeply appreciate for somewhat varying reasons. 

1. Spotlight (Directed by Thomas McCarthy, 2015). Classic storytelling. Traditional. Methodic. Sounds exciting, doesn’t it? Dealing with a sort of traditional, painstakingly thorough investigative journalism that might fall prey to the great extinction. Hopefully not. And hopefully these kinds of films are not a completely dying breed either. 

2. Inception (Christopher Nolan, 2010). Layers on layers of dreams and adventures in the subconscious. Maybe more than a strictly speaking healthy dose of food for thought. But it does provide lasting impressions of an ambivalent variety that clearly shows a master has been at work, playing with our minds and stirring our senses. 

3. The Favourite (Yorgos Lanthimos, 2018). “Mean Girls”; 18th Century version. Could have been insufferable, but turns out so improbably right in all aspects that it becomes irresistible. 

4. Mad Max: Fury Road (George Miller, 2015). Basically all action and no plot, but what action! And what visual extravaganza! I surrender. 

5. The Handmaiden (Chan-wook Park, 2016). Basically all advanced plotting and no action, at least not action action. But consistently surprising, mesmerizing and maybe the working definition of infernal affairs. 

6. Ex Machina (Alex Garland, 2014). Who is most real? What is conscience? And which is Alicia Vikander’s best role so far? Maybe this one. Maybe. 

7. Arrival (Denis Villeneuve, 2016 ). One of the decade’s most significant auteurs explores humanity confronting the unknown, but probably most of all, the very concept of time. Doesn’t have to be completely comprehensible to be absorbing and more or less unforgettable. 

8. Interstellar (Christopher Nolan, 2014). More on the unknown. More on time and what it really means. Seemingly dystopian vision turns into something mindbendingly magnificent.

9. Under the Shadow (Babak Anvari, 2016). War is coming. So is an evil spirit in the house. Mother and daughter struggle to maintain sanity and a grasp pf reality – whatever that means – in a sensational directorial debut that deserves a bigger audience. 

10. Gravity (Alfonso Cuarón, 2013). Basically just about the urgent struggle for survival, alone in space, for 90 nail-biting minutes. 

11. Wild Tales (Damián Szifrón, 2014). Different tales, yet it seems like one coherent story about, well… people. Our fragile nature and sensitive ego. Entertaining and disturbing in equal measure. 

12. Blade Runner 2049 (Denis Villeneuve, 2017). Taking on a cultural heritage like this and moving forward with it demands a visionary mind equipped with nerves of steel. Like the intrepid monsieur Villeneuve.

13. Never Let Me Go (Mark Romanek, 2010). So sad, so unrelenting, so deeply existential and still beautiful in spite of telling a story about people growing up with no real future, or hope or being valued as individuals. 

14. Mission: Impossible – Fallout (Christopher McQuarrie, 2018). These impossible missions for Tom Cruise et al just keep on getting tougher. And the films are getting better and better. Sometime I guess they will have to pull the brakes and at least put a younger hero in harm’s way, but when? 

15. Coco (Lee Unkrich, Adrian Molina, 2017). Death. More colourful than ever. Still offering more depth and dimensions, not least regarding memory and how we handle the inevitable – like loss. 

16. Sound of Noise (Ola Simonsson, Johannes Stjärne Nilsson, 2010). Films like these aren’t really being made. Especially not in Sweden. Probably it’s an illusion that it actually seems to exist, but I put it on my list anyway. Don’t wake me up and tell me it was just a dream.

17. The Social Network (David Fincher, 2010). So, this is how it all began? And now we’ve all handed our lives over to him? Interesting… 

18. Get Out (Jordan Peele, 2017). Some laughs but mostly horror in a directorial debut you didn’t see coming from one half of comedy act Key & Peele. 

19. Black Swan (Darren Aronofsky, 2010). Perfection until death, as told by a perfectionist who always seems to elicit strong reactions of the more polarized variety. He has to be rewarded here. 

20. Roma (Alfonso Cuarón, 2018). Rich, nuanced drama with an almost unparalleled attention to mundane details and subtle changes in relationship dynamics.

21. Annihilation (Alex Garland, 2018). Another inspiring trend among the most memorable movies of late is the plot doesn’t have to be 100 percent comprehensible to be – yes, memorable. Not as long as it provides food for thought and intriguing impressions. 

22. Spring (Justin Benson, Aaron Moorhead, 2014). Lost American hiding out in the south of Europe meets a woman that is anything but ordinary. Horror-romance story turns unexpectedly inspiring and frankly uplifting in the midst of a macabre premise. 

23. Trance (Danny Boyle, 2013). I am pretty sure Danny Boyle has directed objectively better films than this one, but more outright entertaining? I doubt it.

24. Her (Spike Jonze, 2013). The creative combination of sensible science fiction and sensitive relationship-oriented drama has been one of the most encouraging trends in filmmaking during this decade. And yeah, obviously it says something about us and our time. Something that may or may not be equally encouraging. 

25. The Hunger Games (Gary Ross, 2012). The rest of the quadrilogy didn’t fully deliver the same punch that this first instalment promised. It wasn’t bad, but not as gut-punchingly gorgeous in a weird way that made this first chapter a must-see. 

26. Shutter Island (Martin Scorsese, 2010). Dennis Lehane wrote the story. Scorsese directed. DiCaprio starred. Questions?

27. First Reformed (Paul Schrader, 2017). Priest with environmental angst struggles with just about everything. Films like these hardly ever get made. Let alone made this well. 

28. Vanishing Waves (Kristina Buozyte, 2012). ”The Cell”, the Lithuanian version. Only, I would say, even better. Has to be seen to be believed. 

29. Cloud Atlas (Tom Tykwer, Lana & Lilly Wachowski, 2012). What’s it about? What isn’t it about? An epic, challenging adventure anyway.

30. Melancholia (Lars von Trier, 2011). Uplifting? Not so much. Definitely thought-provoking and in a weird way almost inspiring. Is it about the end of the world or is it a metaphor for something else? You make the call. 

31. Edge of Tomorrow (Doug Liman, 2014). Over and over again, the same groundhoggish day fighting invading aliens. Underrated scifi-action piece, also one of Tom Cruise’s most underrated performances. 

32. The Skin I Live In (Pedro Almodóvar, 2011). For some reason I like his darker side more than the lighter one, and his has to be one of the darkest things he ever did. Antonio Banderas might be doing his best work ever here, incidentally. 

33. Mother! (Darren Aronofsky, 2017). Yeah, you might hate it. Hate it, and I will not hold it against you. Personally I find it a magnicent mess, or rather spectacularly messy but in a magnificent way. 

34. Snowpiercer (Joon-Ho Bong, 2013). Ride this train! Well, if you’re still alive in this post-apocalyptic vision, you don’t have much choice. 

35. What We Do in the Shadows (Jemaine Clement, Taika Waititi, 2014). Vampires! Comedy! Vampires and comedy! Yeah, you’ve seen that combination before. But you didn’t see this combination before. 

36. 12 Years a Slave (Steve McQueen, 2013). Heavy, hard-hitting history that just about everyone ought to watch at least once. If you can stomach it. 

37. Argo (Ben Affleck, 2012). Probably not entirely truthful, but imminently entertaining about unlikely hostage rescue operation in Iran, post-revolution 1979. 

38. These Final Hours (Zak Hilditch, 2013). Heartbreaking rendition of a world about to end – yes, really end – and one man’s final attempt to do something meaningful for someone else before it’s all over. 

39. Calvary (John Michael McDonagh, 2014). Priest in a small town gets a very specific death threat. By whom? And how should he spend what might be his last week alive? 

40. The Headhunters (Morten Tyldum, 2011). Norwegian thriller set in some sort of corporate world, keeps the suspense going with nasty surprises, one after the other, until… You’ll see.

 

Some close competitors and honourable mentions:

Steve Jobs (Danny Boyle), Four Lions (Chris Morris), The Secret in their Eyes (Juan José Campanella), Miss Bala (Gerardo Naranjo), 127 Hours (Danny Boyle), Nightcrawler (Dan Gilroy), Baby Driver (Edgar Wright), Eye in the Sky (Gavin Hood), Snowden (Oliver Stone), Gone Girl (David Fincher), Kill the Messenger (Michael Cuesta), The Killing of a Sacred Deer (Yorgos Lanthimos), Atomic Blonde (David Leitch), The Martian (Ridley Scott), Sorry to Bother You (Boots Riley), Zero Dark Thirty (Kathryn Bigelow), Silence (Martin Scorsese), Prisoners (Denis Villeneuve), Hacksaw Ridge (Mel Gibson), Skyfall (Sam Mendes), Beasts of No Nation (Cary Joji Fukunaga), Contagion (Steven Soderbergh), Sicario (Denis Villeneuve)…

 

Coming soon: My Favourite TV Shows of the Decade. With or without superheroes.

So Far Away, So Close, So Nolan-esque: ”Interstellar” Rocks the Universe

So, is this a ”2001” for the 2000’s? The always ambitious Mr Christopher Nolan, along with his brother and frequent writing partner Jonathan, has created an existential space opera that runs close to three hours and takes place in a possible future, apparently not too distant in time. Unfortunately. Serious, planet-wide food shortage has resulted in a visible regression in social services and technological advances. Priorities are about sheer survival. Everything seems a little more grey and primitive than what we (at least in this present industrial world) are used to, accompanied by passing comments concerning a consumer society that apparently came to a crashing end one or a few generations back. The older characters in the story seem to have some fleeting memories of a different era.

Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) plows his fields somewhere on the American Midwest prairie, although he used to be a pilot and engineer with remarkable skills regarding everything airborne. In this atmosphere and the next. Through coincidental (or not) circumstances, he and his likewise tech wizard-esque daughter stumbles upon a research facility which turns out to be what’s left of NASA. There, a small but determined group of scientists are working on a plan to save humanity from the coming apocalypse they still predict in the reasonably near future.

The introduction takes its time. It’s grounded in a gray-ish reality. Then, slowly but decisively, ”Interstellar” becomes a rather stunning experience, a remarkable odyssey in time and space. Nolan & Nolan don’t exactly hold back. The conclusion is powerful, visually as well as emotionally, even though not everyone agrees it holds water on all levels. By that time, I am so caught up in the whole build-up and execution that I accept most of the potentially quasi-philosophical and pseudo-scientific ideas presented and simply want to follow the journey to the end to find out where it all, and by extension we all, will end up. ”Interstellar” is not only a feast for the eyes but it also does provide, as the expression (overused or not) goes, ”food for thought”. At least to the same degree as Nolan’s earlier challenging works like ”Inception” and ”The Prestige”. Maybe more so.

Do we really perceive our entire reality? What are we capable of? How do we deal with the Relativity Theory in practice? The mission for a few brave souls is to find other brave souls who left a while ago to look for hospitable planets in other dimensions, to possibly colonize and populate. There the premise reminds me of Danny Boyle’s ”Sunshine” (a film that didn’t convince everyone either – but I liked it). The technology and terminology on display – do we need to ‘get it’ completely to appreciate this film? I think not. Quantum physics, wormholes, five dimensions, mystical creatures who might communicate with us, or maybe they’re just figments of our own imagination… Realizing the fact that time in itself doesn’t adhere to the same rules in every corner of the Universe. An hour on one planet could mean seven lost, or at least spent, on our own. The important thing is to keep an open mind as much as possible for a couple of hours. And stay awake. I know people who fell asleep in the same cinema where I watched the film, sometime halfway through…

Are there sequences that could have been more heavily edited than they are? Maybe. On the other hand they tend to build up to poignant, important scenes that not necessarily would have had the same impact with a faster pace preceding them. Credibility on a scientific level, well – that’s an area where others might have more insight to share. And they have. Just check the internet for differing views on that topic (like those of Neil deGrasse Tyson). The film strives to expand our views of the world we know, and it gradually manages to just that. If all its concepts are familiar or not is actually of minor importance. The human connection is there anyway. Will we survive? If and when should you sacrifice, or at least abandon the people close to you, family and friends, for something bigger? The story raises issues like, how far can our empathy reach, further than to the ones we know personally, to a nation, to an entire civilization? Existentialism has always been a part of Nolan’s films. But probably never as much as this time, this earnestly and immersively staged. It’s less of mindblowing-experiment such as ”Inception” and more of, yes the Stanley Kubrick classic I mentioned early on, the one with the conclusion that seemingly eludes everyone but still resonates with the viewer on an almost subconscious level.

”Interstellar” also becomes a more successful exploration of the universe than Ridley Scott’s ”Prometheus” a few years ago. That one was undeniably exciting and visually impressive, but it never really managed to capitalize on its own inherent mythology. Nolan & Nolan were apparently inspired by writings by astrophysicist Kip Thorne, whose ideas supposedly also informed ”Contact” (1997) where Jodie Foster tried to interpret messages from the other side of the vast black space thing surrounding us. And featured a supporting role from a fellow named Matthew McConaughey. ”Interstellar” shakes, clatters and swirls like the recent ”Gravity” and beholds the fate of a whole civilization like in ”Sunshine”. In a vision of the future that’s equally frightening and inspiring.

Said McConaughey has had a couple of good years, to say the least, Oscar winner for ”Dallas Buyers Club” and then part of the instant TV classic ”True Detective”. The same could be said for Anne Hathaway and Jessica Chastain. Here, they play Cooper’s astronaut/researcher colleague and his eventually grown-up daughter, respectively. They all seem to choose the right roles recently. And they know how to spend the time they get on screen. Yes, there seems to be a lot of references to time in this review. Whatever the reason may be. On the whole, this is one of the best films I’ve come across this year. Preferably, it should be seen on the big screen, but considering the home cinema installations many people invest in these days, it’s probably not a complete deal breaker if you choose to wait a while for the BluRay version.

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