The Unduly Overlooked Films of Acclaimed Directors
It can be tricky to pick a movie that everyone can agree with. Sometimes when I sit with my family in front of the TV and we can’t collectively decide on a movie we’ll switch on YouTube instead. We’ve gotten into the habit of taking turns choosing music videos like we’re gathered around a jukebox. It can be a lot of fun waiting to see what someone else will pick, and then thinking about what you’re going to play.
During our most recent ‘YouTube jukebox’ session I had the sudden desire to pick a Nelly Furtado song. Not ‘I’m Like a Bird’ or ‘Promiscuous’ — I wanted to listen to ‘Try.’ It’s my absolute favourite song of hers, but for whatever reason it’s also one of her less popular songs. Where some of her later music videos have hundreds of millions of views on YouTube ‘Try’ does not, and I feel that is a shame.
This got me thinking about films by directors that haven’t been given their due. They’re not necessarily considered bad films — they’re simply overlooked in favour of their directors’ other works. It happens all the time with artists regardless of the medium. Coriolanus doesn’t have the same popularity as Macbeth or Hamlet, Wildcards doesn’t have the same popularity as A Song of Ice and Fire, and ‘Try’ doesn’t have the same popularity as ‘Promiscuous.'
I don’t expect the following films to ever attain the same level of recognition as their directors’ most widely seen and revered films, but I do think they deserve more credit and attention than what they’ve been dealt.
David Fincher, Zodiac
Best known for: Se7en (1995), Fight Club (1999), The Social Network (2010), Gone Girl (2014)
David Fincher is a challenging and fearless filmmaker. His precise attention to detail is rewarding to audiences and daunting to his cast and crew. The dark side of humanity is a recurring theme in his filmmaking, where violence is a brutish and grotesque spectacle committed by characters who are manipulative, scheming and ruthless. In Fincher’s worlds there are few good people, and even those few good people will be broken down and beaten.
Fincher’s 2007 film, Zodiac, is a study of personal obsession. Based on a non-fiction book, written by Robert Graysmith, about the real life, unsolved Zodiac crimes committed in California beginning in the late 60s the film follows several individuals drawn into the investigation of the eponymous killer. Police detectives and news reporters and a cartoonist all fall under the case’s spell, longing to uncover a truth that will elude them all for decades. After numerous false leads and dead ends many of them resign themselves to the unknown, admitting defeat. The film ends with captions telling us the Zodiac case remains open to this day — unsolved.
Watching Zodiac it feels like Fincher threw every resource and ounce of talent he had into realizing this story. It feels like a true labour of love, which makes it all the more unfortunate that it was a box office failure and is scarcely referenced by writers and audiences when discussing Fincher’s tremendous body of work. It ranks among his best films and I lament its neglected status as such.
Luc Besson, The Extraordinary Adventures of Adele Blanc-Sec
Best known for: Leon: The Professional (1994), The Fifth Element (1997), Lucy (2014)
French director Luc Besson has a flair for striking imagery and fanciful storytelling. Despite his move to English language filmmaking after a successful career in his home country he has retained many of his European sensibilities, carrying them over to titles like Leon: The Professional and The Fifth Element. He has defied Hollywood convention to give audiences experiences beyond the scope of mainstream American filmmaking. However, one of his most enjoyable endeavours in the last ten years saw him return to France, adapting a popular comic about a strong-willed and beautiful Parisian explorer.
The Extraordinary Adventures of Adele Blanc-Sec is a delightful piece of pulpy, fantastical storytelling. Set in the 1910s the plot involves Egyptian mummies and a resurrected pterodactyl terrorizing the city of Paris. Adele Blanc-Sec herself is a endlessly resourceful and unwavering character who goes to the ends of the earth to attain her goal, namely saving her sister from a living death. She disguises herself repeatedly to rescue a colleague from prison. She uses her quick wits to escape mortal danger many times over. And her positive, unrestrained spirit endears her to all who cross her path.
Adele Blanc-Sec, both as a character and a film, is a joyous treat. What I feel Steven Spielberg’s Tintin movie does wrong I feel Luc Besson’s Adele Blanc-Sec gets right. From the prosthetic and makeup-enhanced characters to the story’s light-hearted tone, the aesthetic and kinetic energy of the comics is captured wonderfully on screen. Being a subtitled French language film shouldn’t be stopping people from enjoying this massively creative and entertaining romp.
Oliver Stone, Talk Radio
Best known for: Platoon (1986), Wall Street (1987), JFK (1991), Natural Born Killers (1994)
During the 80s and 90s Oliver Stone was an aggressive and controversial filmmaker. Politically charged films about America’s corruption and oppression over the masses through disinformation and rhetoric attempted to bring those in power to account. Oliver Stone wanted to expose the horrors inflicted by a broken system. He directed his outrage toward the American government, but also towards the American people, fearing they were ignorant and intolerant to the wider world.
His 1988 film, Talk Radio, tells the story of a radio host, played by Eric Bogosian, who provokes and insults his listeners from the comfort of his corporate studio. He alienates himself from the world while declaring his moral authority and intellectual superiority over everyone else — his talk show becomes a platform for crackpots, racists and a possible murderer who call in wanting to confront him. Under the weight of the naivety and hate his show is broadcasting he snaps and goes on the offensive, venting his fury at everyone and everything. But for all his fire and bravado nothing changes — the world goes on, still divided.
In a world of social media and heated political debate I feel Talk Radio has taken on a new relevance. Any person with an online presence can spout their thoughts and opinions for the whole world to see, and Oliver Stone’s film shows us the responsibilities and consequences of self-expression through modern technology. Not unlike Network in the 1970s, Talk Radio presents us a reality where our greatest enemy is human contempt.
“I guess we’re stuck with each other.”
Alfred Hitchcock, The Trouble with Harry
Best known for: Rear Window (1954), Vertigo (1958), Psycho (1960), The Birds (1963)
Alfred Hitchcock had a long and celebrated filmmaking career, beginning in the black and white silent era and ending in 1976 with his last feature, Family Plot. His films are considered to be masterworks of cinematic craft — Psycho is a classic of horror-suspense, and Vertigo has frequently been voted as the greatest film ever made. Hitchcock was also aware that he was typecast as a director who specialized in conspiracies, intrigue and menace. However, he did upset people’s expectations once in a while.
The Trouble with Harry is Hitchcock’s wonderful venture into comedy. There is still a mystery concerning a dead body, but the tone is much more mirthful than foreboding. Set in New England several disparate characters stumble upon the titular body of Harry, and each of them believes that they’re responsible for his death. As these strangers meet each other under such unusual circumstances they also become friends, and together they plan how to dispose of Harry while avoiding suspicion. He is repeatedly buried and exhumed as more parts of the puzzle are revealed and the newly-formed friends begin to question their roles in his demise.
The Trouble with Harry is a really fun watch. While some parts are silly (one man accidentally stumbles over Harry’s body multiple times, but doesn’t notice because he’s preoccupied with reading a book) the whole is a playful and refreshing aside from the Master of Suspense. The first time I saw the film I had already seen Hitchcock’s classics dozens of times — today I rank The Trouble with Harry among his most well known and praised work.
I suppose it’s an inevitability for many films to be missed and less talked-about when directors like Hitchcock and Fincher have been so productive. Some are bound to slip through the cracks of our popular consumption.
As an audience we’re composed of casual viewers, enthusiasts and film buffs, and as a result our conversations will tend towards those films that have the largest viewerships. The popular films will grow and grow in our cinematic consciousness, while the lesser seen films will reach a cultural plateau.
They may never attain equal standing in our popular culture, but who knows? Many of our contemporary classics went unappreciated during their original release (Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life, for example) only to find an audience years or decades later. Maybe it’s only a matter of time and rediscovery.
Coming soon: I Want to Break Free