Love and Mercy (2015)

What Ingrid Bergman portrayed in Gaslight, Brian Wilson of “The Beach Boys” lived in real life. Exploiting anyone’s insecurity is the key to controlling them, especially in the aftermath of a perfect storm: trauma, pressure to succeed, unappreciated genius and professional relationships with family.

I didn’t watch this as a fan (per se) but by the end was inspired to listen to the work of such an historically influential musician, whose greatest career achievement was considered an absolute flop by critics at the time. Though rumors abound, Wilson himself considers this film to be accurate. His only complaint seems to be the generous depictions of sinister individuals, who were painted too broadly. (Dare I consider it ironic that the biopic’s non-linear structure seems to invoke just as much criticism as the subject’s music?)

Weaving triumph and tragedy through his early career and later involuntary isolation, along with his family life and personal creative process, the movie is a celebration of how a kind and brave wonan came into his life just in the nick of time. I was relieved this didn’t turn out to be a salacious melodrama; horrific suffering took place at the hands of a professional, who took advantage of the fragile mind he was supposed to help heal. Yet love and mercy (as per Wilson’s subsequent song) won. Anything less than an attempt to honor that would disrespect his journey to healing.

Living in Oblivion (1995)

I love movies about movies, anyway. But this one is far from farce; it’s realistic almost to the point of being painful as it manages to capture both the spirit and technical process of independent filmmaking. Should I mention the allstar top-notch cast? The meta cherry atop an already delicious sundae.

Can you ever forgive me? (2018)

In writing, as in life, less is more. Correspondingly, a simple story allowed to stand on its own, free to breathe (i.e. without overt biases and/or contrived themes imposed upon it), will naturally generate “The Conversation” so many artists eagerly crave these days.

Personally, I heard it say, “If you spend half as much time devoted to the task at hand as you do trying to get out of it, you’ll be fulfilled by both the process and the result. In the end, making a quick buck is complicated and expensive!”

But as viewers found with Doubt, everyone will walk away from the movie insisting it was about something else.

Flashdance (1983)

I suppose that in any Art form, everyone sees something different. Many recall this movie about a scrappy welder by day/ exotic dancer by night with nostalgia alone due to its iconic soundtrack. Others can still remember their infatuation with its lead after closeups of her exercise regimen made her iconic silhouette getting splashed with […]

Strictly Ballroom (1992)

Writer/ director, Baz Luhrmann, best known for his pinache, made his moviemaking debut with this one. And what a first impression! Let’s face it: regardless of medium, most first attempts are sincere but earnest and eschew anything flashy, which is understandable. Yet this gutsy storyteller somehow manages to fully develop his characters in a short amount of time. Though the movie is fast-paced it doesn’t feel the least bit rushed; Luhrmann knows exactly when and where to move the camera around his stylized set.

Though he gradually drifted into the realm of cinematic adaptations, this story is truly unique as a perfect synergy of any element you can name. I initially remembered it being a creative little daydream (i.e. a much classier version of Dirty Dancing) that someone more sentimental than I made me watch. Over the years it periodically surfaced in various conversations, referenced by everyone but cinephiles. I finally decided to rewatch it, assuming it would be a subtle precursor to Luhrmann’s hyper-stylized version of “Romeo and Juliet,” which I loved but hadn’t connected as being from the same visionary. Though many movies with vaguely similar elements came to mind, I couldn’t think of a single one to which this compares. In my humble opinion, it remains his finest work.

The Five Obstructions (2003)

Frequently bleak but always visually daring filmmaker, Lars von Trier gets the director of his favorite film to remake it with specific impediments, which von Trier chooses along the way. While such a creative project may seem strange, I remember numerous art classes in which a professor’s imposed obstructions—though infuriating at the time—pushed me to create in ways I never expected because I wasn’t challenging myself to push past the obvious. Isn’t that the essence of creativity? However, the social/ emotional dynamic between the two filmmakers is ultimately what holds the viewer’s attention.

Manifesto (2015)

This movie has the audacity to be a paradox unto itself.

The filmmaker’s literal manifesto (i.e. declarative philosophical statement) about the nature of Art is embodied by various characters—all expertly portrayed by actress, Cate Blanchett—who represent striking examples of Culture influencers. They each, in turn, participate in the recitation of said manifesto. Blanchett utilizes her talent and experience to remain fully in character (voice, pitch, tone, attitude, posture) as different people in different situations while the impassioned narrative continues to demonstrate each point being made.

I’ve seen vacuous films with breathtaking cinematography. I’ve seen heart-wrenching, gut-spilling performances in the hands of an amateur director like pearls before swine. This was neither heavy-handed in its message nor obtuse in its meaning. Every element was impressively in proportion to every other and each vignette both encapsulated a specific point while contributing to the overall theme.

A thoughtful presentation of ideas that will both challenge preconceived ideas about creativity and ultimately the meaning of existence.