On filmography hopping and five films that surprised me throughout the process

I’m not here with a review this time; shock-horror, I know. I’ve also gone more than a month without posting, for which I feel rather terrible about, and I have no excuse for it. Just sheer laziness and the ease of using Twitter as a means to spew truncated, vaguely film-related thoughts.

However, rather than focusing on really dissecting all the films I’ve been seeing in March, I’m going to talk about my penchant for filmography hopping, and how that’s really affected the way I see movies in general now. I’m surprised something like this didn’t happen earlier – I’ve been choosing which films to watch by an actor’s filmography since I was a teenager.

But I’m not even saying that I’ve reached some modicum of objectivity with film-watching, because I do still love things a bit too much, and try to give everything the best rating it could possibly get. Yet, I’m sure I’ve grown…less patient of bad films in recent months. More frustrated for a lack of quality that does exist in between the absolutely fantastic movies I’ve seen in my life.

I watched Scorsese’s The Age of Innocence (1993) today, and was completely blown away by all aspects of filmmaking, but particularly the acting in it. I did it as part of some inclination to watch more of Winona Ryder’s filmography, and I’m quite glad I started with something so wonderful. But I’m also very much aware that Ryder’s starred in an Adam Sandler movie. A Vince Vaughn movie. Homefront (2013), which I’ve actually tried and failed to finish a couple of years ago.

Ryder’s isn’t even the only filmography I’ve been focusing on in the last month. Ever since seeing both Logan (2017) and Beauty and the Beast (2017) – reviews to come – I’ve decided to try and get through Boyd Holbrook’s and Dan Stevens’ CVs. And before them, it was Felicity Jones’. Before her, it was Diego Luna’s. It goes on and on backwards because that’s how I manage to watch a ridiculous amount of films in a short amount of time.

This is not a practice I recommend to anybody. In a way, I watch the crappy things so my friends who might be interested in keeping up with these actors don’t have to. But I would be remiss to omit the fact that there is a kind of strange film cred that’s associated with watching obscure stuff that nobody else bothers with. This used to be something I cared about a lot, and not ever finishing filmographies would give me legitimate anxiety. Almost as if not practically inhaling every film by a personal favourite actor would mean I was somehow less than other people who did.

Logically, that makes no sense, of course. There isn’t necessarily any measure of fandom except the one you put on yourself. But even if this ritual of finishing filmographies is far from fun, there are perks to doing just that. Sometimes films don’t come across as good as they really are at first glance. It might seem too simplistic, or too reminiscent of other films that have done much better (this is especially true for genre movies). Nevertheless, with every batch of lousy, two-star rated films comes a single gem that hits home in unexpected ways, so here’s a list of five that personally got to me without me realising it.

Tape (2001), dir. Richard Linklater (for Ethan Hawke and Robert Sean Leonard)

Definitely an underrated Linklater film, but then again he makes so many of varying genres that it’s hard to keep up with. This one deals with unreliable narrators and terrible dark secrets. Plot-wise, it goes to places I would have preferred it didn’t (with reference to violence against women), but it’s an expertly crafted contained thriller. Much like a theatre piece. Bolstered by wonderfully strong performances by all three leads, the film perfectly captures a sense of utmost urgency.

Mister Lonely (2007), dir. Harmony Korine (for Diego Luna)

I was a little apprehensive of it, yet am not sure why. Korine is a solid director in my eyes and although he tends to tackle violent and oftentimes unsavoury subjects, he’s never really done anything I disliked. The same sentiment rings true with Mister Lonely, although it’s much more elusive in feeling compared to some of Korine’s more straightforward works like the cinematic masterpiece Spring Breakers (2011). (Said only in slight jest.) It is heartfelt between its deliberately over-the-top nature, and although likeability is pretty much a non-issue in the film, the narrative finds its way to the audience’s heartstrings one way or another.

Things We Lost in the Fire (2007), dir. Susanne Bier (for Benicio Del Toro)

Not so much the most innovative film as it is one that takes it upon itself to really capture subject matter (dealing with death) as concisely as possible, Bier’s filmmaking is frenetic and frustrating. However, it certainly feels very close to the actual process of grief. What struck me most about this film is its insistence on taking its time to let the narrative as well as the characters unfold onscreen. It feels naturalistic and understandable, so by the end the audience is able to find closure too.

Tell Them Anything You Want: A Portrait of Maurice Sendak (2009), dir. Spike Jonze and Lance Bangs (for Spike Jonze)

Quite possibly one of my very favourite films, this one is only 40 minutes long, which is such a travesty. It’s surprisingly intimate, with Sendak being the perfectly open yet melancholic subject that captures what feels like the essence of that fleetingness. This was a personal deal for Jonze, and that much is evident in the way the camera lingers on Sendak’s image; it’s got a bare-bones nature about it and a sense of true honesty.

I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House (2016), dir. Oz Perkins (for Lucy Boynton)

There have been fairly terrible reviews of this, but it’s actually quite a good tribute to the Gothic horror film. It’s deeply atmospheric – unnervingly quiet and pristine as it controllingly limits the audience’s point-of-view. Ruth Wilson sparkles in the most understated way, but the real highlight happens to be the sound design; suffocating in its minimalism and painstakingly crafting a wonderfully psychological illusion.

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