The following is a sample of various genres of films. Missing are the classic go to film school standards ie: The Battleship Potemkin, Intolerance, The Bicycle Thief, Citizen Kane, Pee Wee’s Big Adventure and The Godfather(s). What is represented is a collection of films that are examples of prudent use of the camera, actors and visuals of our medium.
1. HALLOWEEN (1978) – (kick ass horror on low to no budget) John Carpenter – Horror
John Carpenter shot this 1978 franchise launching film for less than $400,000 ($1,000,000 adjusted for inflation). A chilling and suspenseful horror flick that uses some pretty neat tricks to scare the pants off it’s audience. Narrative foreshadowing and delaying the reveal of the films main antagonist string out the suspense and keep the audience on edge.
Other Examples: THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT. PARANORMAL ACTIVITY,
2. She’s Gotta Have It (1987) (low budget boy/girl human condition) Spike Lee – Comedy
Spike Lee’s debut film was a very simple story surrounding a central female character untethered by social norms and expectations. Nola Darling embraces her sexuality in what some feel is socially unacceptable. Her independence frustrates her lovers and the audience cheers anyone who defies convention to be themselves.
Other Examples: SHADOWS (1959) John Casavetes, Medicine for Melancholy (2008) Barry Jenkins
3. My Life as a Dog (1985) (coming of age and the struggle to be ones self) Lasse Hallstrom. Drama
I found out years after first seeing this film that the story was semi autobiographical. That explains the authentic vulnerability of the story’s central character, Ingomar. Hallstrom’s use of montages season changes and and screen direction to propel the story is masterful. Notice the direction and seasonal change of the train going to and from his “innocence” to his “new life” . A signature transitional device is a good weapon to have as a storyteller.
Other Examples: Stand By Me (1986) Rob Reiner, The Breakfast Club (1985) John Hughes
4. The Gods Must Be Crazy (1984) (One man vs Nature and the world to save his family) Jamie Uys – Comedy
The innocence and harmony of an isolated African plains community is disrupted by the invasion of modern man when a coke bottle falls from the sky. Since abundance is the norm and there’s only one coke bottle a new emotional element enters what was previously harmonious existence. The journey to ride the Earth of what has threatened his family is shot documentary style and filled with conflicts of modern man vs Xau (The Bushman) .
Other Examples: APOCALYPTO (2009) Mel Gibson, CASTAWAY (2000) Robert Zemekis Honorable Mention: Rabbit proof fence
5. The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1989) (The Limits of the mind unrestricted by great production design) Terry Gilliam
Production Design is the language of our visually dominated medium. The production design and visual signature should relay the emotion and feel of a story without words or sound. Terry Gilliam’s Epic adventure film was a box office failure but an instant classic. Perhaps this film was ahead of it’s time. The sets and photography were kuey within the story to bring the audience from the films reality to the fantasy that is part of the story within the story (then back again).
Other Examples: Romeo and Juliet (2000) Baz Lurhman, The Cook, The Thief ,His Wife and Her Lover (1989) Peter Greenaway
6. Reservoir Dogs (1992) (non-linear story telling) Quentin Tarantino Suspense
Sometimes the inciting incident is the actual highlight of a story. Tarantino crafts suspense from the beginning of the story by revealing glimpses of the aftermath of an unforeseen catastrophe. The juxtaposition of action vs consequences tell a story that unfolds in a puzzle that keeps the audience engaged. He followed with the same weapon in a different holster in Pulp Fiction.
Other Examples: Memento (2000) Christopher Nolan, 500 Days of Summer (2009) Marc Webb
7. DIE HARD (1988) (One Man vs a superior opponent and kick ass anyway) John McTiernan.
Jeb Stuart’s script started an instant bidding war among agencies. The simple trick of adding the slightest soupcon of vulnerability by removing our protagonists shoes makes
John Mc Clane all the more heroic. Out gunned and hindered by mobility, McClane has to Maguiver his way out of this mess to save the day.
Other Examples: Lethal Weapon (1987) Richard Donner, Under Siege (1992) Andrew Davis
8. Lawrence of Arabia (1962) (The scope of a Heroic Life shot through an all encompassing lens) David Lean
The photography was a key component in telling the story of a singularly quixotic English officer. T.E.Lawrence was larger than the limits of his post and humanity. He accomplished legendary military feats and David Lean and director of Photography F.A. Young chose locations, lighting and lenses to relay the scope and impact of on mans impact on history.
Other Examples of the importance of photography: Master and Commander: The far side of the World (2003) Peter Weir, Children of Men (2006) Alfonso Cuaron, Rosemary’s Baby (1968) Roman Polanski
9. Speed (1994) (the ticking clock as a plot driving force) Jan De Bont
The ticking clock or the impending event (disaster, birth, death, etc.) is a very effective tool for driving the dilemma of the protagonist or antagonist. The antagonist has set a limit on the amount of time the hero has to work the problem. The fate of our hero and those on the screen we care about is in the hands of time and circumstances. To “deliver us from Evil” Keanu has a strict window of opportunity. We cheer for him because he fights an unseen enemy and wins.
Other Examples: TITANIC (1997) James Cameron, Training day (2001) Antoine Fuqua
10. Places in the Heart (1984) (triumph of the human spirit against nature, circumstances and even ones own physical limitations) Robert Benton
Sally Field gives the performance of a lifetime in a time of desperation. Through all odds she fights to hold on to what is left of her family, home and dignity. The film flows visually through the darkest and brightest of times of a year of struggle and triumph. No matter what is the backdrop, sports, war or the unknown, the quest for spiritual fulfillment will always drive the story.
Other Examples: HOOSIERS (1986) David Anspaugh, Once Were Warriors (1994) Lee Tamaho
Bruce Bellamy local 44
3rd best on-set dresser and all around badass.