Tag Archives: Angelina Jolie

Top 10 war films since 2010

Cinema thrives when it comes to war films. These are events that many regular civilians would never understand on any level other than statistics and classroom lessons. So, that’s where cinema’s job comes in — to transport us, to help us understand. And recently, war films have gone beyond that. But we don’t like to confine the genre to just those of generals, political machinations and battlefields involving some form of Western force. Those are outstanding, but war is more than that. War drags children into conflict in countries that can’t defend them. War is the deeply human and deeply empathetic look at those not necessarily fighting, but suffering — either those subject to enemies and without the ability to fight back, like Holocaust victims, or those struggling in the aftermath of what they’ve had to do, like PTSD victims. Even genre films, superhero or otherwise, have utilized war and wartime settings to comment, in immensely effective ways, on violence. So, let’s extend the perceived boundaries of the war film. Releasing this Friday, Oct. 27, Thank You For Your Service looks to do just that, mostly leaving the battlefield to extend Jason Hall’s investigation into PTSD that started with American Sniper. Who’s to say that that’s not as much of a war film as any? Here are our top ten war films, both traditional and subversive, since 2010:

10. First They Killed My Father (2017)

Netflix/Courtesy

While Beasts of No Nation and First They Killed My Father confront the topic of the child soldiers whose lives are consumed by the wars surrounding them, Angelina Jolie’s First They Killed My Father is unique in how it paints a portrait of a country’s history, and how it derives such a portrait from following its young lead (Sareum Srey Moch). Beyond being an affecting historicization of Cambodian history, it is a deeply beautiful film despite the horrors that it depicts — some of the dream sequences and the film’s multiple overhead shots transcend the vileness of war, suggesting that Cambodia’s own beauty as a country triumphs against the Khmer Rouge regime.

— Harrison Tunggal

9. ‘71 (2015)

Roadside Attractions/Courtesy

Yann Demange’s directorial debut is a breathtakingly intense look at more of a guerrilla war than a typical war, following the “Troubles,” a conflict which centered around Northern Ireland’s status as either a part of the UK or part of a united Ireland. And that’s what’s so special about this film — that you can feel that distinction from the opening scene. Demange’s construction of tone through editing and cinematography that build tension in the streets of Ireland is masterful. Similar to Dunkirk, ‘71 is almost a silent film, a chase film filled with frightening stakes. It’s one of the better war films of recent times because it succeeds in spades in portraying a region under duress, not from enemies outside, but from fellow people within.

— Kyle Kizu

8. Lincoln (2012)

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With a little bit of make-up, a sizeable amount of screentime and a lot of method acting, is there really any role Sir Daniel Day-Lewis can’t play? In Lincoln, the prolific actor practically becomes Abraham Lincoln as the renowned and revered president navigates a unique time period within the context of the American Civil War — its final few months and the repercussions of its aftermath on American slavery. Helmed by Steven Spielberg in, arguably, one of his best films in the past decade, Lincoln takes an incisive look at the intricacies behind not only Lincoln himself, but the president’s impact on shaping the United States’ perception of race-based politics into the modern era. Not only does Spielberg’s direction manage to entertain through a sheer cinematographic fixation on the enigmatic and truly revolutionary mind of Abraham Lincoln, but the film’s incredibly talented supporting cast, including a possibly show-stealing performance by Sally Field as Mary Todd Lincoln, ensures that the film goes down as one of the most compelling and meticulously recreated historical war dramas to ever appear on screen. There’s a sense of artistic passion that oozes from Day-Lewis’ portrayal of the strong-willed yet holistically perceptive Lincoln, one that envelops every scene he’s in (spoiler: with a name like Lincoln, it’s a lot of ‘em) but that never grows stagnant. Leave it to Day-Lewis and Spielberg to make a high school reading requirement into war cinema royalty.

— Sanjay Nimmagudda

7. Wonder Woman (2017)

Warner Bros./Courtesy

Sure, on an instinctual level, Wonder Woman is a superhero film, but it uses its wartime setting as effectively as any other film on this list. The film posits that war is a product of man’s own destructive ways, and that it’s up to a woman to bring the compassion (and kickassery) that precipitates peace. If nothing else, the film’s argument makes it a unique entry in this list of war films, but the level of craft that director Patty Jenkins brings to Wonder Woman lends the film an edge that its peers lack — Jenkins does Zack Snyder action better than Zack Snyder, the production design alone is worth the price of admission and the “No Man’s Land” scene will go down in cinema history as one of the most inspiring moments ever filmed. Truly, where most war films claim to depict heroism, Wonder Woman defines the standard to which such heroism should be held. As Wonder Woman, Gal Gadot channels Christopher Reeves’ Superman to give audiences a figure of hope they can aspire to — she is the hero the world needs and the one it deserves. But in Wonder Woman’s words, “It’s not about deserve; it’s about what you believe. And I believe in love.”

Harrison Tunggal

6. War for the Planet of the Apes (2017)

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There may be less physical conflict shown in War for the Planet of the Apes than Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, but the third Apes film is the first to truly be about war. Not every moment in war is physical conflict. Exemplified by Game of Thrones, war is often about the aura in the air and the disposition of every single person across vast regions, which, in War’s case, genuinely feels to be the entire planet. There is often silence in barren and broken landscapes that are strangely beautiful, and moments of harrowing communal strength in stake out locations. There are factions with warring ideologies, embodied by their leaders, and, most importantly, there’s a sense of history of what’s gotten us to this point. War for the Planet of the Apes holds all of that, and more, and is it arguable the most stunningly crafted of the trilogy. When it does come to physical conflict, it features some of the more viscerally abrasive battles of recent memory, especially the film’s opening. And it’s also host to some searing, haunting imagery akin to the Holocaust, as well as to any other conflict that involves mass imprisonment, such as the Japanese internment camps. War is one of the few war films, in general, to truly understand what “war” means, the implications of it, the often ignored visual and emotional impacts on both the small and wide scale, the ideological divide, the characters that perpetrate it and the characters that uphold the best of humanity — which, in this case, are the apes.

— Kyle Kizu

5. American Sniper (2014)

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American Sniper is a rorschach test of sorts. Some people see this film as a jingoistic piece of propaganda. Others see it as a sobering investigation into post traumatic stress disorder. It lands so high on our list as we mainly fall into the latter. While the film may not have a typical progression of narrative, we follow Chris Kyle, portrayed with unbelievable vulnerability by Bradley Cooper, through this growing sensory and emotional overload. Rather than use a typically inspirational score like Lone Survivor, American Sniper makes use of horrifying sound design that enhances the sounds of bullets and explosions. The film crafts this entrapment, most directly on his tours as gunfire rains down from all over and even hiding places are not so safe, but also in brief moments back in the U.S. as Kyle becomes entrapped in his own head. The brevity of his raw emotional moments shows just how much pressure and silence these soldiers dealing with PTSD feel like they have to put on themselves, making them all the more powerful — exemplified by the bar scene when Kyle arrives back to the U.S. without telling his wife and, when she calls, he breaks down and can only say “I guess I just needed a minute.” American Sniper is a war film that digs into you without you really noticing, so when you get to those points, you still feel all of what Kyle feels. It’s a necessary look at what war does to human beings.

— Kyle Kizu

4. Son of Saul (2015)

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The Holocaust is a subject that is often focused on in World War II films. There have been a multitude of movies exploring the horrors and atrocities committed during this moment of history, with notable examples being the eight-hour documentary Shoah or the Best Picture winning Schindler’s List. The topic has been explored by filmmakers like George Stevens, Otto Preminger, Stanley Kramer, Vittorio de Sica, Quentin Tarantino and Paul Verhoeven. With all of these major filmmakers being vital and their films classics, it may be hard for anyone to feel that cinema needs to retouch one of the worst crimes against humanity ever committed. Yet, László Nemes’ directing debut Son of Saul might just be the most stunning from both a filmmaking and pathos standpoint. The film follows Saul (Géza Röhrig), who is a Jewish Sonderkommando, as he goes by his day-to-day activities, which includes the truly demoralizing jobs of being both the person who leads fellow Jewish people into the gas chambers, and then being the one who disposes their bodies afterward. One day, Saul sees a child — after the fact — that resembles what his son would have looked like. From here, the film plunges into the wearied psyche of Saul as he tries to find answers to where his son is, and if that boy was his son. Filming in mostly tight close-ups, Nemes and cinematographer Matyas Erdely create an extremely subjective view on the Holocaust, forcing the audience to rarely see the violence, but instead to hear it, to be surrounded by it, to be as closely immersed in this devastatingly tragic time as any film before it. It may be a grim film, but it’s about as important and courageous as film can get — showing that sometimes in the most dire of circumstances, we can regain our own humanity.

— Levi Hill

3. Beasts of No Nation (2015)

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Beasts of No Nation represents not just one country, but the many that suffer from the type of atrocities and conflict of war present in this film. And this is where writer-director Cary Joji Fukunaga pulls off a stunning feat of storytelling — we understand that this is the tragedy of many, but we get to know our characters so deeply and so vividly. We become so connected to this idea of a larger devastation because we get such intimacy with the singular devastation we see. Much of that comes from violence. The trauma that Agu (Abraham Attah) encounters is overwhelming in every way, something that we immediately recognize as far too much for a young child. And as Agu falls into his own head, we see the potential for what he can become in the film’s juxtaposition of him next to the Commandant (Idris Elba) — a broken man forced into fighting, addicted to fighting, but only for any semblance of individuality and not for the war’s cause. That’s what makes Beasts of No Nation such a vital war film. Not only is it gorgeously rendered with some arresting cinematography and some viscerally intense filmmaking, and not only is it a film that shows conflict outside of the Western world, but it’s so invested in its humanity, in the brutality that gets us to a point like that and in the psychology of the most psychologically vulnerable during wartime: children.

— Kyle Kizu

2. Zero Dark Thirty (2012)

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Director Kathryn Bigelow has never been one to shy away from war in cinema. Whether it be her first foray into the genre with 2002’s K-19: The Widowmaker or 2009’s Oscar darling, The Hurt Locker, (which reminded Hollywood, yet again, directing isn’t just a boys’ club) Bigelow has proven time and time again that she is the female authority on war on the silver screen. Combine her directorial prowess in capturing the governmental manipulation behind contemporary conflict along with the moral ambiguity of modern politics and a tour de force performance from Jessica Chastain, and you have Zero Dark Thirty. How does one portray the relentless hunt for the leader of the militant organization that orchestrated the worst terrorist attack on American soil since Pearl Harbor? With an unwavering realism that produces a profound sense of patriotism that is simultaneously overpowered by a sense of conscientious repugnancy, Zero Dark Thirty earns its spot on this list not solely for the gripping fashion in which it fashions an intimate look at the minds integral behind the assassination of Osama bin Laden, but the staunch stance it takes in revealing how war affects those that aren’t on the front line, and what they, and we as a nation, are willing to sacrifice to win.

— Sanjay Nimmagudda

1. Dunkirk (2017)

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Statistically speaking, Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk is, hands down, the film MovieMinis has written most about, by a margin wider than the English channel itself. And for good reason — beyond simply being a great war film, easily one of the best of all time, it is still the best film of 2017 (the ball is in your court, Guillermo del Toro).

You can read all about Dunkirk’s merits as a film here, but as a war film specifically, Dunkirk’s brilliance comes from its comprehensive, thorough subversion of every war movie trope ever put on screen. No character in this film pulls out a photo of his girlfriend back home, we hardly ever see enemy soldiers firing away at our heroes and, quite remarkably, the film maintains its thrills without spilling a drop of blood. In terms of war films, Dunkirk is the anti-Hacksaw Ridge — a film about evacuation rather battle, the empirical engineering of tension over mere spectacle. In this sense, where most war films are happy to indulge in hyper-masculine violence or cliched patriotism, Dunkirk intends to achieve none of it, preferring to blaze a new trail for what a war movie could be. Unlike any other film in the genre, Dunkirk is a purely experiential film, aiming to put viewers on Dunkirk’s beaches, in the skies above it and in the waters of the English Channel. The film’s IMAX format, expert editing, earth-shattering sound design and reliance on practical effects remind us how the language of cinema is a mimetic one. Speaking of Dunkirk, one feels the compulsion to pontificate about how audio and visual immersion is a quality unique to cinema, but let’s face it, such immersion is unique to Dunkirk.

— Harrison Tunggal

 

Featured image via Keith Bernstein/Warner Bros.

Top 10 Netflix Original Films

Over the past two years, Netflix has been building itself in the image of a legitimate film studio. They got started with documentary films and have held a consistent and impactful presence in that space — we were and still are stunned by the likes of Virunga and 13th — but it wasn’t until the release of Beasts of No Nation when the potential to carve a space in narrative filmmaking really presented itself. And as with any company trying out new things, Netflix stumbled. For every The Fundamentals of Caring, there were five to six dramatic duds. Adam Sandler comedies drowned out the Win It Alls of the bunch. But recently, the conversation and controversy around Netflix has ramped up, and that’s because they’ve been making seriously good movies. Almost all complaints about the streaming company’s release model are valid, but it’s difficult to deny the pure quality and singularity of films such as Bong Joon-ho’s Okja and Angelina Jolie’s First They Killed My Father. 2017 is shaping up to be the best year for Netflix and truly just the start of what they likely intend to do down the line. And with The Meyerowitz Stories, which genuinely makes up for the Adam Sandler atrocities with a wonderful Sandler performance, the best of the best for Netflix throughout its film production/distribution endeavors is quite a formidable group. Here is our list for the top 10 Netflix original films:

10. The Ivory Game

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Following in the footsteps of Virunga, The Ivory Game presents itself as an international (Kenya, Tanzania, Hong Kong) thriller working to uncover the dark truths of elephant poaching. Unlike Virunga though, The Ivory Game is less tepid to show the true mutilations and horrors of the violence being committed against these beautiful, sacred animals. As with most advocacy docs, it is heavy-handed and straightforward in its approach, but that doesn’t make it any less powerful.

— Levi Hill

9. I don’t feel at home in this world anymore.

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Macon Blair’s directorial debut also happens to be the 2017 winner of Sundance’s Grand Jury Prize for the U.S. Dramatic competition, and for good reason. Its one-two punch of humor and violence makes for a quirky crime-comedy, one that simply asks for people to do right by each other. If anything, the film is worth checking out for Melanie Lynskey’s performance as a windpipe-breaking, novice vigilante, and Elijah Wood as a shuriken-chucking eccentric.

Harrison Tunggal

8. First They Killed My Father

Netflix/Courtesy

Angelina Jolie’s latest directorial effort also happens to be her best and most important. First They Killed My Father functions as a memoir of author Loung Ung’s childhood during the Khmer Rouge’s regime, but it also acts as the therapeutic recollections of an entire country. This film belongs to Cambodia, a testament to the country’s collective trauma, a filmic monument. Jolie crafts such a monument with precision, delivering some of the year’s most haunting visuals, making First They Killed My Father a singularly important film in Netflix’s library.

Harrison Tunggal

7. Our Souls at Night

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Our Souls at Night is a quiet piece, a film that, like those at the age of the main characters, takes its time and doesn’t take things too seriously, but, when real emotions are at stake, can engage and devote care unlike any other. And in that way, we don’t really realize how emotionally invested we are as viewers until the end of the film. The pacing is so methodical, the dialogue so calculated to construct a genuine naturalism that we become enveloped in a seriously refreshing type of cinematic experience. But the majority of work done to craft empathy is through Jane Fonda and, especially, Robert Redford. Redford is incredibly vulnerable, shouldering the weight of his character’s backstory in such immensely affecting ways, whether that be through the breathy delivery of a single line of dialogue at the end of the film or through a short glance during the various emotional moments. It’s a performance that is reserved yet entirely wholesome, and one of the best of 2017.

— Kyle Kizu

6. Gerald’s Game

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While It is undoubtedly the bigger crowd-pleaser and entertainer, Netflix’s Stephen King adaptation Gerald’s Game may honestly be the better film. Navigating one location and one character’s mind for a majority of its runtime, Gerald’s Game is a surprisingly visual and intensely engaging story. The editing, cinematography, lighting and, especially, the vigorous and committed performances from Bruce Greenwood and Carla Gugino all work harmoniously to construct a world of hallucinatory, overwhelming terror, and the story and main character are granted a sense of empathy and care, even if a bit too on the nose, that too many horror pieces are devoid of. If not for anything else, though, seek out Gerald’s Game for one of the most physically affecting gore sequences of recent memory. It’s truly sickening. In a sickeningly good cinematic way.

— Kyle Kizu

5. Virunga

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In due time, people will begin to see that, in 2014, Citizenfour wasn’t the most important documentary of that year, but rather, Virunga had the most to say regarding humanity, animal rights, conservation measures and how capitalism and war affect everyone and everything. Merging an investigative reporting style about bribery and greed for French oil companies depleting the natural beauty and resources of the Virunga National Park, with a tender look at the selfless gorilla caregivers in the park, the film presents a breathtakingly beautiful, but horrifically heartbreaking look at the complex political issues in the region.

— Levi Hill

4. The Meyerowitz Stories

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The Meyerowitz Stories features the best performance Adam Sandler has ever given. He nails this quiet complexity, where he is outwardly loud and has random moments of (comic) swearing, but, for the most part, keeps his pain under the surface. The film is pretty low-key and likely won’t gain much awards traction, but Sandler deserves notes throughout the season for his turn. The whole cast, though, is excellent throughout, with Hoffman being particularly affecting as a cranky, retired intellectual, and the film itself is truly wonderful, a very distinctive but realistic New York state-of-mind story that only Noah Baumbach could concoct.

— Levi Hill

3. Okja

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Even though Netflix tends to get flack for burying its projects deep in its library of titles, and for not properly promoting any of them, Bong Joon-ho’s Okja is such a delightfully unconventional film that one has to commend Netflix for letting it see the light of day, especially when the release of Bong’s previous film, Snowpiercer, was fumbled by the true winner of Mirando’s super pig contest, Harvey Weinstein. Functioning as a 21st century, sci-fi reupholstering of Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle, Okja has plenty to say about the meat industry, capitalism and Jake Gyllenhaal’s facial hair (it’s Oscar worthy). The film does it with a blend of humor, warmth and violence, and while such a combination would feel out of place in any other director’s hands, Bong maneuvers a wide spectrum of tones with ease. As a Cannes competitor, Okja is one of the year’s best films, and it’s a film that truly elevates Netflix’s stable of original projects.

Harrison Tunggal

2. 13th

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With 13th, Selma director Ava DuVernay returns to the topic of race relations in the United States, making an equally as powerful, yet strikingly different artistic statement as she did with the Martin Luther King Jr. biopic. Tracking the changes in racism and how it takes form from the abolition of slavery until now, DuVernay truly defines what “necessary cinema” means — but not simply with content, but also with how she directs and composes said content. Strangely for a documentary film, the interview cinematography is intimate and blunt. The score guides the viewer through the overwhelming amount of information to consume, and the editing renders the progression of over 100 years smooth and fluid. But DuVernay never allows it to be easy to forget the true weight of this all. Words slam onto the screen, highlighted by every aspect of the film to force us to confront the horrific facts that have been produced by a system built on slavery. The cliche is true: 13th should be in classrooms across the country. Or maybe Netflix has become that classroom, giving this brilliant film a massive platform.

— Kyle Kizu

1. Beasts of No Nation

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What can be said about the film that put Netflix on the theatrical map, a great movie that went nearly unnoticed in traditional distribution and at the Oscars, is that people began to question if Netflix would be the right company to release these vital films. Regardless of how people feel about Netflix’s distribution model though, there’s no doubting that Cary Joji Fukunaga’s Beasts of No Nation is not only his best movie, but the best movie Netflix has ever released. Featuring a heartbreaking debut performance from Abraham Attah, and what should have been an Oscar-winning turn from Idris Elba (he won the SAG and the BAFTA, only to be snubbed of even a nomination by the Oscars), Beasts of No Nation is one of the most politically important war movies ever made. Acting as a Heart of Darkness-esque descent into the violence that plagues young children who are torn away from their homes and forced to fight in militias, Beasts of No Nation never shies away from showing the atrocities of these wars created by adults and fought by kids. If you haven’t seen the film yet, then please do, as the fact that the film will always exist for streaming on Netflix is one of the many great elements of this new model of film distribution.

— Levi Hill

 

Featured image via Netflix.

‘First They Killed My Father’ Review: Angelina Jolie’s Cambodian film is a haunting, emotional testament to historical trauma

In First They Killed My Father, Angelina Jolie’s adaptation of Loung Ung’s memoir of the Cambodian genocide, the sentence “A daughter of Cambodia remembers so others may never forget” appears on-screen — a perfect summation of the hauntingly emotional film. Though it is told from Ung’s perspective (played by Sareum Srey Moch), the Netflix film becomes the story of Cambodia as a whole, a recollective testament to an entire country’s trauma. The words aren’t etched on a stone monument, but a filmic one.

The film’s casting process was criticized for being exploitative, but whether or not Jolie’s exercise in improvisation was as innocent as she claims, the film deserves recognition as a true Cambodian production while many Hollywood films are marred by whitewashing and white savior tropes. Jolie wrote the script with Ung, and worked closely with acclaimed Cambodian filmmaker Rithy Panh to ensure the film’s authenticity — First They is largely spoken in Khmer, and even the closing text is written in Khmer.

Nevertheless, the film doesn’t rely on its dialogue, preferring to convey the horrors of war through its own visual language. We aren’t told about the titular murder, but see it through Ung’s recurring nightmare, one of many dream sequences that communicate Ung’s interiority. This emphasis on visual storytelling comes at the expense of developing Ung as a character, but her seeming numbness makes sense in a world so rife with horrors.

First They Killed My Father also includes several overhead shots which underscore the notion that this film is about the entirety of Cambodia. In one such shot, dozens of makeshift campfires illuminate the families gathered around them, defying a seemingly invincible darkness.

Even though the film is often tough to watch, moments like these tastefully suggest that love and empathy always win the day. Later in the film, Ung stands before the withered shell of a captured Khmer Rouge soldier. She stares him down, neither condemning nor condoning his actions, but seeing him as someone’s father, a person capable of love but manipulated to hate. The film’s success lies in its belief in humanity’s capacity for goodness, putting the onus on the viewer to validate that belief.

Grade: 9/10

 

Featured image via Netflix.