It’s finally time for me to reveal my Top Ten Movies of 2017 here on Plot and Theme. I know, everyone settle down. Now, in previous years this piece has come out sometime around the middle of January, as I hastily throw together a Top Ten list ASAP. Usually, this means that a few films that graced the coastal elites in the latter half of December don’t get consideration because they don’t show in whatever Podunk I am currently populating. By waiting a few months into the next year, I get to add more sweet flicks to my list, plus I was able to watch some of the older films a few more times. It should turn out well.
The eighth entry in my series, Stanley Kubrick – A Year of Masterpieces.
Barry Lyndon is one of Stanley Kubrick’s most overlooked films. Cinephiles and casual fans alike are quick to list a dozen other Kubrick films as a favorite before even considering this film – if they even care for it at all. But, if one is to judge by the magnitude of the artistry, Barry Lyndon may be Kubrick’s greatest triumph. His intention with the film is crystal clear: to approach the “period piece” with the respect that it deserves, both in terms of accurate storytelling and through aesthetically appropriate cinematographic techniques. The result is a resounding expression of the power of cinema, as Kubrick positively transports us into the world of Mr. Redmond Barry.
In A Clockwork Orange, Stanley Kubrick means to make you uncomfortable. The magic of the film is that it can show terrible things and then making us care about the mind of the man responsible for them. Kubrick accomplishes this titanic task through three main techniques, each of which will be detailed in this piece: heightened stylization, a uniquely likeable non-hero in Alex, and the unification of every aspect of the film into a potent thematic statement: Free Will is sacrosanct. These aspects make A Clockwork Orange an undeniable classic film, as important today for what it reveals about humanity as it was in 1971.
It is a sin to write this. Mr. Stanley Kubrick told me so:
2001 is a nonverbal experience; out of two hours and 19 minutes of film, there are only a little less than 40 minutes of dialog. I tried to create a visual experience, one that bypasses verbalized pigeonholing and directly penetrates the subconscious with an emotional and philosophic content.1
Kubrick’s film 2001: A Space Odyssey certainly bypasses verbalized pigeonholing, but that doesn’t mean the film defies explanation and discussion. The present piece will analyze how Kubrick succeeds at the rather lofty goal of creating this “visual experience” by looking at three key cinematic components that Kubrick uses to tell this story. First, we’ll look at aural components like dialogue, music, and soundtrack. Then, we’ll delve into the visual components like special effects and cinematography. Finally, we’ll deal with thematic components, focusing on Kubrick’s use of archetypes. Together, these components produce a rare beauty: a pure expression of cinema and the power that it has to inspire the imagination.
Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove, Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb is a satirical masterpiece. In this piece, we will discuss the germination of the great film and then detail how the director combines a serious camera (Part I), genuine but exaggerated characters (Part II), and a farcical tone (Part III) into one of the greatest condemnations of the military state of all time. Kubrick’s aim is simple: to subvert the grim seriousness of the Cold War by showcasing the absurdities that arise from taking concepts like “mutually assured destruction” and “nuclear deterrence” to their logical conclusions.
The Matrix is replete with allusions to classic philosophical ideas. The plot references Plato’s Cave and the world of forms, Descartes’ First Meditation and the evil demon, and Hilary Putnam’s “brain in a vat” scenario – all ruminations on the nature of reality and the possibility that we only perceive an illusion. The film also considers the tension between free will and determinism, mostly conveying its stance on this fundamental philosophical issue not through long-winded discussion, but through an essential tenet of Romanticism: the plot hinges on the genuine choices made by its characters.
One of the most enthralling sequences in The Silence of the Lambs is the first meeting between Clarice Starling and Dr. Hannibal Lecter, and it is a masterclass in visual storytelling. This piece will analyze this entire sequence shot-by-shot, explaining the cinematic techniques that director Jonathan Demme and cinematographer Tak Fujimoto use to tell this crucial portion of their story. We’ll be looking at different aspects of each shot including: composition, point of view, camera movement, pacing, and more. We’ll see how in a mere six minutes and three seconds, these 60 shots convey characterization, plot, and even crucial thematic ideas that would develop through the course of the film.
Most years have a few high-quality genre pieces to offer, some years see the release of a genre-defining film and a solid collection of supporting movies, and every now and then there are collisions where two absolute classics are released side-by-side (see: 1968, 1977, and 1982). But, there’s nothing quite like what happened 20 years ago. Eleven science fiction films of note were released in 1997, spanning all subgenres. This piece will discuss each of these films, heralding 1997 as a seminal year for cinematic science fiction.
The fourth entry in Plot and Theme’s year-long look at the filmography of Stanley Kubrick. Check out all entries here.
In 1962, Stanley Kubrick adapted the Vladimir Nabokov novel Lolita for his sixth feature film. Though published only 7 years earlier, Nabokov’s novel was already reaching the status of a classic work due to its controversial subject matter, witty wordplay, and themes of erotic fantasy, hebephilia, and sexual predation. Working with Nabokov on the screenplay, Kubrick’s adaptation faithfully recreates the key aspects of the novel, capturing the sexuality, irony, and tragedy of a man who lusts after a prepubescent girl.
Still shackled by the Hayes Code, Lolita was thought to be unfilmable, and the director himself later expressed that had he known how severe the censors were going to be, he probably wouldn’t have bothered to adapt Lolita. Fortunately, he did.
Paul Greengrass’s United 93 is more than a harrowing dramatization of the events of September 11th, 2001. It’s also a profound treatise on the significance of information, and how ignorance leads to irrationality, uncertainty, and fear. This piece will look at three aspects of the film and how each is intimately tied to the availability of information: the plot, the characters, and the themes. The plot is revealed slowly, as a sense of dramatic irony permeates the spectator’s interpretation of the events. Characterization is established by reactions to the inexplicable, and then corresponding responses as more information becomes known. Even the ultimate thematic statements hinge in the treatment information in United 93. Greengrass concludes that information is power – especially in the hands of individuals.
The Terminator (1984) is a better film than Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991). The three other movies in the franchise are utter garbage and will not be discussed further. And, if you’ll lower your pitchforks for long enough, this piece will provide several arguments asserting the superiority of The Terminator. I’ll compare three aspects of the films and explain how The Terminator bests Terminator 2 in each: 1.) The overall plot-theme of the story, 2.) The structure, pacing, and the effectiveness of the storytelling, and 3.) The characters and their respective arcs. I will show that the first film showcases a stronger and more original plot, streamlined structure, and more interesting characters. After remarking on the sequel’s deserved accolades, the stark verdict will follow: Terminator 2 is exemplary, but The Terminator is the greater film.
The third essay in a year-long analysis of the films of Stanley Kubrick. Check out the schedule and explanation here, where you can also find links to all the completed pieces.
Stanley Kubrick’s Spartacus, starring Kirk Douglas and written by Dalton Trumbo, may be the best Swords-and-Sandals story ever put to film. The film is a powerhouse but is easily the least “Kubrickian” film in all of the great director’s filmography. This is mostly due to Kubrick sharing control with Douglas, who produced the film and had final cut, and the writer Dalton Trumbo. In this piece, I’ll detail the circumstances surrounding this intense collaboration, starting with the political climate and background of the film. I’ll continue on with the story and characters developed by Trumbo and Douglas and finish with Kubrick’s stylistic contributions to the film. Though all three creators approached the film with their own intentions and goals, they were still able to produce an irrefutable classic.