I know that sounds incredibly vague.
I’ve always wanted to write a film that matters, that you watch and you go ‘Wow, that scared the hell out of me’, or ‘Life looked different for two hours and I believed it’. When I say ‘scare the hell out of me’ I mean that in an existential crisis kind of way.
I want to question what I do, and why I do it. And I want to question what a film is supposed to do. Of course, people make films for different reasons. To entertain, to wake people up, to scare people. It’s all pretty vague as an industry. But recently I’ve watched films that make me think about films in a whole new light, and I kind of feel like sharing that with you.
There are a total of six films that I’ve seen that have changed the way I think about things, and the way I think about how movies are made.
1. Ex Machina (dir. Alex Garland)
Now, before I go full freak on you, I would like to let you know that this is probably my favourite movie of all time. This film was beautiful, the acting was incredible, the script! Oh, god the script! This film killed any desire for me to write a film that ends happily. (If you haven’t seen this film, I would stop now to avoid any spoilers)
I think it’s safe to say that this was such a horrific ending. I had to pick my jaw up off the floor and I didn’t sit comfortably for the rest of the night. I couldn’t believe that these characters were treated so poorly in the end, killed almost comically in a way. Nathan (Oscar Isaac) gets murdered by his own creation and Caleb’s death is 100% more ambiguous. We just see him trapped in the steel and thick glass dungeon as Ava (the AI) walks away non-plussed. And it was god damn beautiful. I had never been so shocked and in love with any movie. I was jealous that I hadn’t come up with any of it especially that plot twist – good lord.
2. Celeste and Jesse Forever (dir. Lee Toland Krieger)
This is an entirely different genre to Ex Machina, but Celeste and Jesse Forever is the beginning of a large pool of thought outside of ‘in the end they end up together because love conquers all’. Because this is the real world, and we don’t always – or ever – get saved by a trashy but ultimately lovable ’00s track. Sometimes we don’t talk to the people we loved the most, and we don’t talk to them for so long that they don’t love us anymore.
Sometimes you have to move on whether you like it or not, and it leaves you feeling like you have stones in your stomach. Sometimes, like this masterpiece, you find your person. And it’s so perfect, but things happen, you make one shitty decision and you lose them, and you don’t get them back. It’s a whole other life lesson learned, watching the person you love love someone else. You aren’t allowed to tell them how you feel because that’s not fair on them. As Celeste learned in this film, she didn’t realise how great she had it, and when she lost it, she didn’t get it back.
At first, I thought this move was awful and I was so deflated and sad after watching it. But when you think about it, once you realise what it’s saying, you accept the ending, because it’s real. It’s a wake up call, and you feel like you’ve had your ass kicked into the real world, but you see the world much clearer afterward.
3. Digging For Fire (dir. Joe Swanberg)
Before we begin, I think Joe Swanberg is an incredible filmmaker. And I think his love for casting Jake Johnson in films almost equals my love for watching Jake Johnson in films. And I think this film is incredible. This film makes me wish I’d written this film.
I think it starts with the minute details. It starts with a perfect replica of a life that we all have heard of or dread living. This is so realistic, this film is so close to real life that it’s unsettling and even perceptibly boring because of it. But this boring-ness is often where we find the little moments that we see that mean the most. This film doesn’t end the way you expect it to, and I think that’s the key.
You create this world, with these characters, people who you can see existing in a world exactly like yours. And you watch them interact, and the scenes they play are small, and they all add up to something that in the end isn’t revolutionary. But that kind of makes the ordinary extraordinary.
Mostly, I think this movie feels like a photograph. It’s less about the story that these characters play out, and more about the space they occupy. It measures out into the level of interaction or audience resonation, and ultimately it makes it more real, it makes it easier to love. Back to the photograph theory, this is like a two hour photograph of a man’s life; nothing big happens, he doesn’t cheat on his wife, nobody dies, the stakes are barely off the ground, they’re not high at all. He just lives his life, and he does what he needs to do and he goes home with his wife, and continues the film even when the camera is turned off.
4. Drinking Buddies (dir. Joe Swanberg)
Okay, another Joe Swanberg, but trust me, this one is a good one. If you’ve never heard of this piece of magic, watch it right now. It stars Olivia Wilde and Jake Johnson as the lead roles. They’re two friends who flirt madly but at the end of the day are best buds. They both have S.Os, so you know that they’re not really going to try anything out in the open.
Something important to note, is that this film did not have a script. No. Script. At. All. That is a bananas concept, going in blind to a movie and it turning out so well. It could have gone south and we’d have never seen it at all, but obviously it turned out splendidly. I think something that is enchanting about this movie is that it didn’t seem unscripted. It was charming, and funny and the comedy was real because it was 100% improvised.
This is the film that I think proves that films don’t have to have a happy ending, in fact, it really isn’t necessary. These two people don’t end up together, no matter how hard they’re flirting. He marries his girlfriend and her boyfriend breaks up with her. To be honest, it’s a nightmare in the moment, you keep thinking that it’s going to get better, that maybe MAYBE he’s going to come to his senses, run to her house and serenade her with an amazing speech that changes everything. There’s probably a sunset involved. And violins. But alas, none of that bullshit happens. Mostly because he came to the right senses and married the girl he had been dating, not the girl he’s been flirt/friending briefly.
And that’s the point, really. People don’t always do the right thing, and their choices don’t always end up being great. But it’s also never as bad as you might think. Sure, they don’t end up together, but the film ends and you learn something about people.
5. Show Me A Hero (dir. Paul Haggis)
Strictly speaking, this isn’t a movie. It’s a miniseries, but the point still stands I think. This stars Oscar Isaac in the lead role, and ultimately, this poor man doesn’t get a happy ending. But we learn something, about people, and not necessarily about politics.
This is an incredible character piece, with the main character Nick Wasicsko. He’s a politician, and his friend Winona Ryder are running for mayor. This show is shot beautiful, and it’s structured beautifully. We get glimpses of a time we’re not sure of, but we keep coming back to it. We learn probably too much about Nick, that he’s not a good person, but he knows what he believes, even if people think he’s wrong.
This also unsettled me because of the ending, because we invest so much time into these people, and we actually grow to love them, when they don’t get the ending we think they deserve, we riot. But we don’t consider the fact that their ending isn’t something they deserve, and it never had to be. Life is a bit of a shit sometimes, and things happen, people act and react in the moment. We don’t get to stop and think about what the best thing to do is. You get riled up, and you get worked up and you do something you might live to regret. Everything about it inspires and depresses you, and you see a part of life that exists, but that we turn from.
6. Inside Llewyn Davis (dir. The Coen Brothers)
Okay, I think this was a masterpiece of a movie. This is the last one because I need to stop otherwise I’ll keep going. This film was shot beautifully, the colours! The set! This film, and I did a minimal amount of research and reaped very few rewards, but I figured that this was a cyclical narrative (feel free to let me know how you feel). It ended where it began and we can only imagine that it would continue to happen like a broken record.
I suppose that’s the irony in this, isn’t it? Llewyn Davis was a struggling artist in a time when records were a thing – or, the only thing I should say. A lot of his life felt repetitive, and a lot of it was broken. He was heartbreaking to watch, and he brought the whole world to life. I think this kind of film really puts a lot of things into perspective.
A lot of people have this idea that they’ll get their song picked up and they’ll get signed and they’ll be rich and famous. Obviously it works for some people, but for others? There’s Llewyn Davis. And that in itself is the heartbreaking part. That he may be destined to suck the rest of his life, and I shouldn’t say ‘suck’ because he didn’t. That’s just life, and life isn’t fair all the time.
All these films, they give you a feeling that, sure these ones don’t work out, but it’s not the end of the world – bar Ex Machina, granted that she doesn’t actually singlehandedly cause the end of the world. But they leave you, ultimately with a healthy amount of hope that your life won’t suck too bad. It’ll definately suck sometimes, and you might lose the love of your life, you might never get that big break, but life goes on. These films are little glimpses of life, little film reels of people. And that’s it, for me. I want to learn about people, I want to give people a reality they can trust.
I want to make movies that matter.