The Spark

I’ve mentioned this in previous posts, but I generally attribute my love and appreciation for film to my decision to minor in film during my college years, since I got to experience a broad spectrum of different genres and styles from a multitude of different directors and eras.

Prior to that, I didn’t go to the movies all that much – at least, not as often as I would have liked. Now, I try to go once a week or every couple of weeks, and sometimes I go three times in one week, it all depends on what’s showing at the two theaters in my tiny backwoods town. I also get my friends saying things like, “Please tell me you didn’t go to see Pete’s Dragon by yourself,” like it’s a bad thing to take in a 10AM Saturday show solo to enjoy a nice Disney flick with some gummy bears.

But there is one film that I consider to be my “aha!” moment – the one that opened my eyes to how beautiful, compelling, and powerful cinema can be. And that film is Chris Nolan’s 2008 genre-breaking superhero flick, The Dark Knight.

MV5BMTMxNTMwODM0NF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwODAyMTk2Mw@@._V1_UX182_CR0,0,182,268_AL_This was before the days of assigned (and reclining) movie theater seating, so my parents and my best friend and I showed up an hour early in order to ensure we got the best seats in the house. As a massive Batman fan, I was psyched to see the Caped Crusader take on the newest iteration of his arch-nemesis, the menacing Joker. As the film unfurled onscreen, I was totally blown away. The music, Heath Ledger’s unforgettable performance, and the more grounded version of Gotham and Batman that Nolan crafted quickly became one of my all-time favorites, and I left the theater already yearning to see it again… which I did. Twice more, including a one hour trip to see it in IMAX with my dad. To this day, I have a huge movie poster of the Joker hanging over my bed; the first film poster I ever bought for myself. Now, many others have joined the ranks. I will still see any film that Christian Bale is in, regardless of ratings, will always spy a bit of Commissioner Gordon in any Gary Oldman performance, and will forever contend that The Dark Knight was robbed of a Best Picture nom at the Oscars.

As such, I consider The Dark Knight to be “the spark” that ignited my adoration of the cinema, the first film that made me think about how movies work and how all the parts come together to make one solid, functional piece of art capable of wowing and moving audiences. It opened the door to a whole new world, for me – and it didn’t even require a death-defying magic carpet ride to get there. Sure, I loved other movies before that, but The Dark Knight is special for me, and it always will be. Now, I’m one of those obnoxious people who love to talk about mise-en-scene and cinema verite and the male gaze and all that jazz, and I have a comic book movie to thank for that.

If any one else reading this has had a similar experience, what was your “spark?”

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Best Picture Countdown #5: Dunkirk

“There’s no hiding from this, son. We have a job to do.” – Mark Rylance as Mr. Dawson, Dunkirk (2017).

Dir: Chris Nolan
Starring: Mark Rylance, Cillian Murphy, Tom Hardy, Kenneth Branagh, Fionn Whitehead, James D’Arcy, Harry Styles, etc.
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 1hr 47min

Dunkirk is a war film that utilizes three different perspectives (land, air, and sea) and a trio of timelines to depict the events of the Dunkirk evacuation during WWII. Over the course of the film, the three viewpoints gradually sync up and the characters collide with one another as a brave fleet of civilian boats seeks to rescue the stranded soldiers.

This film is probably higher on my list than on most, but it’s not just because I’m a Chris Nolan fangirl with a penchant for war films. I mean, as much as I admire him, I don’t think he’s going to take home the Best Director award, though I was pleased to see him get his first nod. I’m actually stunned he’s never been nominated before, but that’s a convo for another time…

Dunkirk_Film_posterOne of the film’s greatest strengths is in what it lacks: dialogue. The tension builds in conjunction with the cinematography, sound effects, and pulse-pounding music, not the words and conversations of the characters. The whine of the planes and the rat-a-tat of dogfights, the crashing of bombs on a beach, the yells of frazzled soldiers and the unnerving creak of a ship about to sink, all combine with the vivid imagery of bleak sands, the dour grey of a morning sky, the bobbing of civilian ships forging a path across the waves, and a shivering soldier stranded on floating debris. Seeing this film in IMAX was a cinematic experience unlike any I’ve seen before, and I was so engrossed the entire time I forgot to eat my candy – something I can safely say has never happened before. This film came out in wide release months ago, long before most of the other nominated films, and I can still clearly visualize several scenes because of how much of an impact they had and how brilliantly they stood out onscreen.

While the entire cast is great, Dunkirk is truly an ensemble effort; I found myself invested in each character’s journey, as a significant portion of time is spent on each of the three perspectives, giving each story the chance to unfold without feeling rushed or drawn out. The timelines weave in and out from one another, but do not come together until the very end, which forces the viewer to put some pieces together and heightens the suspense in crucial moments. And the presence of Harry Styles isn’t a major distraction.

As immersed as I was by the performances and atmosphere of this film – and the apparent historical accuracy in comparison to Darkest Hour – I doubt it will take home the ultimate award on March 4th. I’m not putting money on Nolan either, though Dunkirk might be the best example of his directing chops to date. It’s a dark horse for Best Cinematography, but I actually have another favorite in mind for that race, and though it’s my personal favorite for Original Score (as in, Zimmer’s score seriously enhanced the film, arguably more so than the others) I don’t see it taking that one home either. But, as with the BAFTAs, I think it has an excellent shot at the other technical awards, both sound mixing and sound editing, and has a good chance at film editing as well.

The events of WWII have been depicted countless times across various media and in countless films over the years, but Dunkirk still manages to present something refreshing and new. Nolan may get flak for being “pretentious” and “cerebral” with his films (the end of Interstellar comes to mind…) but in this outing, his experimentation with new narrative styles, his striving for authenticity, the intense focus on visual elements, and the reliance on generating an intense atmosphere with limited dialogue and mostly nameless characters is a cinematic triumph worth seeing on the big screen, and well-deserving of a Best Picture nomination.

Oscar Nominations
Best Director (Nolan)
Best Cinematography
Best Original Score
Best Production Design
Best Sound Mixing
Best Sound Editing
Best Film Editing 
Best Picture 

My full review of Dunkirk from July 2017 is available HERE