And so we continue with my inexplicable tradition of ringing in the New Year by listing some of the notable movies that are now ten years old. This year, however, this is particularly poignant for me, because my wife and I moved to Los Angeles in January of 2007. It was also the same year that I started podcasting over at Battleship Pretension.
Little did I know at the time that 2007 would be one of the best movie years of my lifetime, with no less than four absolute masterpieces being released over the course of the year (see if you can guess what they are!).
The following movies are now officially 10 years old. Happy New Year!
BLACK SNAKE MOAN
HARRY POTTER AND THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX
THE SIMPSONS MOVIE
THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM
3:10 TO YUMA
IN THE VALLEY OF ELAH
INTO THE WILD
THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD
THE DARJEELING LIMITED
GONE BABY GONE
NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN
I AM LEGEND
CHARLIE WILSON’S WAR
SWEENEY TODD: THE DEMON BARBER OF FLEET STREET
THERE WILL BE BLOOD
One of the salient features of a particular kind of film marketed explicitly to evangelical Christians is the use of what Tyler Smith calls “the emblem.” Among other characteristics, it typifies what Tyler has classified under the umbrella of “Christian social drama” in his master’s thesis. Examples of this genre include movies like Fireproof, Courageous, War Room, God’s Not Dead, and Do You Believe. The form of the emblem varies from movie to movie, but consistently, there’s some monument or object that represents the characters’ commitment to family and faith.
It’s easy to classify J.A. Bayona’s beautiful new film A Monster Calls as just another family movie about grief and sadness, like Bridge to Terabithia or Where the Wild Things Are. But, while those films are perfectly good, it would be wrong to do so. That would be too simple, and A Monster Calls is not a simple film. Quite the opposite, in fact, as on its surface it would seem to be about loss, but is at its heart about something much deeper, something more complex. This is a film about honesty, truth, and the often contradictory nature of both. Not exactly light material, and Bayona – directing from a script by Patrick Ness, adapting his own novel – chooses not to attempt an artificial lightness. Instead, he embraces the feelings of its main character; namely a deep sadness and a need for escape.
Every dramatic writer understands the vitality of the three-act structure. The importance of rising action, character arcs, obstacles, conflict, and the eventual climax as key elements in effective emotional storytelling cannot be overstated. Many of the most beloved films have strictly adhered to this formula and, in doing so, provided their own arguments for why it has shown itself to be so sturdy over the years. For a writer or a director to attempt to subvert basic storytelling elements like this is to flirt with the potential confusion and alienation of his audience.
And yet there have been many filmmakers over the years that have come to understand the stylistic and emotional potential of unconventional storytelling. At the very least, this can serve the very practical function of forcing the audience to try to more actively engage in the film they’re watching, lest they lose track of the story thread. In reformatting even the most straightforward story, the filmmaker requires the audience to approach what could be very familiar material from a different angle, which can ultimately affect the thematic meaning they take from the film. However, to engage in non-linear storytelling simply for the sake of attempting something different is to run the risk of overcomplicating the story and frustrating the audience. Ultimately, if a filmmaker chooses to abandon more conventional narrative choices – such as the three-act structure and a chronological timeline – he must have a reason beyond simple novelty.