There’s a trope that has become infamous in recent years, especially with superhero movies: The Pillar of Light. You know the image, the villain is close to succeeding in their master plan, and the final step involves a device that fires a blue beam of light into the sky. The purpose of this light often doesn’t make sense and is always stopped before it does whatever it was intended to do. The trope has popped up in many Transformers movies as well as a handful of Marvel movies.
Most recently the blue pillar of light was seen in the trailer and on the poster for Godzilla: King of Monsters. I decided to list my five favorite pillars of light, regardless of how the movie ranks on my personal list.
It’s Such a Beautiful Day (directed by Don Hertzfeldt) From my review: Hertzfeldt can take us to heart-rending moments of illumination. There’s a memory Bill has of a time when he was staring out at the sea and contemplating “all the wonderful things he will do with his life.” That moment is led into with grace and empathy and never underlined by the filmmaker. It is the audience who will make the connections with the facts and emotions of the scene: Bill’s memories feeling like he’s living in them only to encounter a moment where he had all possibilities laid out before him. He’s snapped back to the present, his situation very dire and his whole self in a state of deterioration.
Monsieur Lazhar (directed by Philippe Falardeau) From my review: The film contains messages about multiculturalism and the themes of mentors & proteges, but it does this without feeling didactic. The way Lazhar adapts to the Quebecois culture and how his students learn from him is done organically without speeches or exposition. Offscreen events occur as we move through the winter and into the spring, but we are shown enough to get a sense of growth happening in Lazhar’s classroom. The performances by Mohammed Fellig (as Lazhar) and Sophie Nélisse (as Alice) are rich and layered, without being maudlin. As I watched the film, I kept thinking about how a Hollywood version of this would get so much wrong and essentially already has in so many other teaching centered movies.
14.The Last Circus (directed by Alex de la Iglesia) From my review: If Michael Bay made films that have substance he would be Alex de la Iglesia. In this pic, a man is haunted by his father’s destruction at the hands of the fascist Franco government and attempts to honor his pop’s memory by continuing the family tradition of clowning. He ends up the “sad clown” to a masochist “happy clown,” and both vie for the affections of a beautiful acrobat. The violence gets pretty bad in this one as both men grow increasingly insane. One of the most fun, and still intellectually rich movies I’ve seen in a while. There’s also a lot of classic film references, particularly in the big finale which reminded me a lot of Tim Burton’s Batman work visually.
Blossoms (dir. Wong Kar-wai) Wong Kar-wai, the master filmmaker behind so many great films with my favorite being In the Mood For Love, has a new movie due out this year. Blossoms is an adaptation of a short story collection by writer Jin Yucheng, whom the director is working with on the script. The stories alternate between the end of the Chinese Cultural Revolution and the modern Shanghai, emphasizing the changes to this place over the decade. It can be assured that Wong Kar-wai will produce something meditative and meticulous and I can’t wait to see what he gives us.
Here is the second part of my favorite films I viewed in 2018 and the final blog post of 2018. I will continue in 2019 starting with a State of the Blog post tomorrow.
15. Loveless (2017, dir. Andrey Zvyagintsev) From my review: It is entirely understandable to be at the frayed edges of a relationship and want to drag them down in the mud with you on the way down. It’s not a right way to live, but it is a behavior that is very natural to humanity. It is reasonable to want to start a new life and experience that nostalgic freshness that a burgeoning relationship can bring. Are Zhenya and Boris unrealistic in their expectations for their new partners? Oh most, definitely and we see that as the film slowly spirals to its conclusion. Zhenya and Boris are so entirely ordinary, and that is what makes Loveless cut so deeply. These are not exaggerated, grotesque characters. These people could be us if life got bad enough.
As always these are films I *watched* for the first time in 2018, not necessarily that were released this year. Part 1 contains #30 – 16.
30. Lean on Pete (2018, dir. Andrew Haigh) From my review: Charley has never really experienced love, except for that one short time with Aunt Margy. She truly loved him, and then they had to go away. So, when Charley meets Pete, a horse considered valueless, he wants to repay that love. Charley begins to see the beauty in Pete, old but still strong, full of opinions and not easily tamed. He wants to rescue Pete in the same way he needs someone to save him. No one’s coming for Pete, so Charley takes it upon himself without ever asking if anyone is coming for Charley. So often the rural corners of our nation are portrayed as the warm, moral centers, the “Heartland.” Director Haigh has no qualms pointing out how stark and lonely the landscape and its people can be, just as devastating as any urban nightmare conjured up.