6. There Will Be Blood
Named by some critics as the film of the decade, ‘There Will Be Blood’ is Paul Thomas Anderson’s fourth major film and arguably his best work yet.
I remember the first time I saw ‘There Will Be Blood’, I went into the film with high expectations but also trepidation that it might not live up to Anderson’s previous work. It became immediately clear however, that this film was made with just as much vision, attention to detail, and passion as his previous work (if not more). The whole film is a spectacle of great writing, incredible acting, and masterful film making. While watching the film it was obvious that it was a great piece of work, but I wasn’t quite sure why Anderson chose this story to tell. There seemed to be something missing…
And then the final sequence; Like a long symphony, or opera, or Shakespearean play, the film has built up gradually with little crescendos and peaks here and there, rising slowly toward the explosive finale. Up to this point the work is beautiful but unsatisfying. But when we reach the finale, and all the instruments boom and chime together, and the players act out their final movements, the whole piece of work snaps together and becomes a magnificent object of transcendence. True art.
Though he made several features before ‘Lolita’, it was his adaptation of Vladimir Nabokov’s controversial novel that really marked the beginning of Stanley Kubrick’s legacy.
While searching for a room to let Humbert Humbert, the solemn and reserved professor of French literature, encounters the 14 year old Lolita. He falls completely in love with the young girl and even marries her mother Charlotte in order to stay near his ‘Lo’. We would assume and expect that Humbert, being an adult, would be the predator, the initiator, and the villain here. It turns out however that Lolita is in control. She manipulates Hum and eventually leaves him for another man. The devastated Humbert tracks down and kills the man who stole his love from him. He later dies of heart failure while awaiting trial for murder.
Humbert loved Lolita more than anything in the world. She was the only thing that really mattered to him and he was willing to risk everything for her. After realizing that he would never be with Lolita again, Humbert tracks down and kills the man who lured her away. Awaiting his trail, with nothing left to live for, he dies of coronary thrombosis. A broken heart. The film is at once a touching love story, heartbreaking tragedy, and a wicked dark comedy.
8. Boogie Nights
Born to be a film maker, Paul Thomas Anderson was just 26 years old when he made ‘Boogie Nights’. With his ensemble cast and sprawling script ‘PTA’ created a compelling story about identity, loneliness, family, and the struggle that every person faces finding their way through life.
‘Boogie Nights’ is set in the pornography industry of the 1970’s, but it is really a compassionate story about people. We observe the unfolding lives of over a dozen fascinating characters and while they are connected through their profession, they are all very different. We watch Dirk, abandoned by his parents, struggle to find his identity and self-worth. He wants to prove that he can do something great but inside he is still an abandoned child. Maggie has lost her son due to her lifestyle and drug use. She quickly assumes the mother role with Dirk as a way to help both of them cope, but she gravely misses her son. The timid and gay Scottie obsesses hopelessly over Dirk even though Dirk has no romantic interest in him. Little Bill watches his wife cheat on him repeatedly until he decides to shoot her and her lover, and then himself.
All of the characters just want to be loved, to feel that they are worth something, to be happy, and to find their unique path in life; the same things that every person wants. It turns out that we are not so different from the characters in ‘Boogie Nights’. In fact we are not so different from any group or any other person in the world. Anderson reminds us that we all have a lot more in common with each other than we tend to think.
9. Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb
Kubrick’s follow up to ‘Lolita’, ‘Dr. Strangelove’ is a dark comedy that takes place during the Cold War.
When dealing with a more subtle subject like the nuances of love and relations between people, an artist can use a film like ‘Lolita’ to explore the matter. But when things get so crazy and so absurd that they defy typical exploration, the artist can only use comedy and satire.
‘Dr. Strangelove’ is preposterous on it’s surface but when we think of the situation that we were in during the Cold War where we came so close to cataclysmic disaster by our own hands, it seems that the scenarios of real life are more preposterous than that of any film.
The music that plays at the start and end of the film (Vera Lynn- We will meet again) is a kind of dreamy lullaby that makes us feel like we are drifting off into crazy land. We get the feeling that the whole world has lost their minds, the train is off its tracks and barreling toward its doom, and there’s nothing left to do but ride it out. This was Kubrick’s take on the Cold War.
The Coen brothers at their very best; ‘Fargo’ is bizarre, tragic, funny, and completely unpredictable. Although the film is not based on a true story, despite what the title card says at the start, the events of ‘Fargo’ seem almost too strange to not be true.
In deep financial trouble, small town car salesman Jerry Lundegaard sets up to have his wife kidnapped in order to get ransom money from her wealthy father. Things do not go as planned. Jerry gets in way over his head, and while he tries to keep his plan on track things spiral further out of control. He can barely sell a car and yet he is trying to orchestrate and control very complex and sensitive events in an unpredictable world. His situation becomes such a disaster that we can’t help but laugh.
I think ‘Fargo’ can serve to remind us of a valuable, and age-old lesson about how to navigate life. The characters who try to forcefully exert their control over the world fail miserably. The characters who ‘go with the flow’ and adapt to their changing environment do very well and life seems a breeze. It is much better to adapt to the shifting environment and accept the things that cannot be changed, than to resist and struggle against the flow of things, often making the situation much worse. –As Bruce Lee once said, “Don’t get set into one form… Be water, my friend.”