Tag Archives: Darren Aronofsky

Best Films of the First Half

locke

We’re midway through 2014 and so, as I do every summer, I’ve compiled my list of favorite films so far this year. I have yet to see Richard Linklater’s Boyhood (which doesn’t come out until July 11 anyway), which I assume will make my year-end list.  I love Linklater and last year at this time I already knew his Before Midnight would be one of my top films of the year.  In general it’s been a fairly standard first half of the cinematic year: a few great films but not a lot of memorable ones. I’m excited to see what’s to come this fall. Here’s what’s stayed with me so far in 2014:

1) Locke: The more I think about this film, a one-man-in-a-car-for-90-minutes tour de force from Tom Hardy, the more I find it impressive. Not only is it another fine entry into the growing genre of “minimalist actor showcase” films (see also: Robert Redford in the criminally under seen All is Lost), but it’s also a master class in filmmaking. Only after the film is over, and just as you’re getting used to Hardy’s peculiar Welsh accent, does the force of its power start to hit you. It’s a film that doesn’t tell you what it’s about but reveals itself over time (days, weeks, months in my case) and after much reflection to be a film that is about nearly everything. Countless times over the last few months, whether reading Genesis, watching the news, dealing with relational stress or driving the L.A. freeways, my thoughts have returned to Locke. That’s the mark of a great film. (my full review)

2) Noah: I’ve been unabashed in my acclaim for Darren Aronofsky’s Noah and my insistence that, in spite of all the controversy surrounding the ROCK MONSTERS, “liberties taken with the story” and accusations of Gnosticism, it’s actually a pretty excellent film–one of Aronofsky’s best. Not only is it a great film but it’s a rather reverential one too, taking faith in God more seriously (ironically) than some of the more on-the-nose God films that came out this year (I’m looking at you, God’s Not Dead). Yes, its an unfamiliar take on the story. Yes, it’s environmentalist (so is the Bible). Yes, it draws from more than just the Bible in its telling of a biblical story (so did The Passion of the Christ). Whatever. I loved it, I’m a Christian and my faith is richer because of this film. (my full review)

3) True Detective: OK, I know this isn’t a film per se. It’s TV (well, HBO). But who can tell movies and TV apart anymore? This eight-part epic takes the police procedural to the next level, mixing the ominous tone of Zodiac with the potboiler plots of C.S.I., but with far more grit and misanthropy. Though at times a bit too bleak for me, the show’s finale (“Form and Void”) puts the whole thing in a new perspective and adds major theological gravitas to an already philosophically bent show.

4) Under the Skin: Jonathan Glazer’s follow-up to his stylish enigma Birth (2004), Under the Skin is a similarly provocative exploration of what it means to be human, particularly what it means to be embodied. Starring Scarlett Johansson in her second non-human role in a row (see also: Her), Under the Skin is quite literally about skin: the phenomenon of a soul clothed in a body, of our bodily substance, of what an alien’s gaze at the awkwardness of humanity might look like if it spent some time in our shoes. It’s also about incarnation, which is also a theme in Her. In the midst of our disembodying, digital age, films like these help remind us of the complexity and wonder of what it means to be human.

5) The Immigrant: The latest from James Gray (Two Lovers, We Own the Night), The Immigrant is a glorious and deceptively simple throwback to classic Hollywood melodrama. Featuring exceptional work from the always terrific Marion Cotillard and Joaquin Phoenix, The Immigrant explores the very American mingling of God and mammon, as well as grace and work, as it tells the tale of America’s messy dream. (my full review)

Honorable mention: Cold in July, Ida, Night Moves, Mad Men, Mitt

Note: THE IMMIGRANT, TRUE DETECTIVE and especially UNDER THE SKIN  contain sexual material and nudity and should be approached with caution for those sensitive to this type of content. 

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Review: Noah

Noah

[Excerpt from my review of Noah for Converge Magazine]

One of the images that lingers from Darren Aronofsky’s Noah is that of a huge rock protruding from the sea, with hundreds of screaming people climbing desperately to its top, being swept off like toys by mighty waves. In the background we see the massive wooden ark, peaceful and secure amidst the deadly raging sea. Inside, Noah (Russell Crowe) and his family are safe, but they can hear the screams of the dying outside.

Among other things, this horrific scene underscores the darkness of the Noah story. Though many children reared in Sunday School remember Noah’s ark through a cheerfully colourful flannelgraph lens, the tale is actually quite sobering. Aronfosky (Requiem for a Dream, Black Swan) — not exactly a flannelgraph sort of filmmaker — does the story justice by confronting its disturbing darkness head-on…

Does Noah take liberties with the biblical account? Does it embellish and expand upon what’s there in the text? Yes and yes. And it must. The Noah account in the Bible covers four chapters in Genesis for a grand total of about 2,500 words. Everything that happened is surely not recorded. Furthermore, the film’s setting — a mere ten generations removed from Eden — is so unknown to history and so charged with mystery and the miraculous; it’s difficult to tell any sort of story in this context without lots of educated guesses as to what it was like.

Noah’s filmmakers must fill in the gaps to fill out a coherent cinematic story, speculating as to things we don’t know about. What was the mindset of Noah (who, apart from Gen. 9:25-27, never actually speaks in the biblical narrative) during this crazy episode in his life? What did his family think? What were the interactions between Noah and the wicked population doomed for destruction? Did Noah have a relationship with his grandfather Methuselah (Anthony Hopkins)? The film explores all of this in the spirit of midrashic interpretation, and takes the story far beyond the source material. Some of it works and some of it doesn’t, but (as far as I can tell) none of it directly contradicts anything in the biblical account. Most importantly I believe the film — which ends up being an epic somewhere between Tolkien’s The Two Towers and Shakespeare’s Hamlet — retains the theological themes of the Noah story, powerfully bringing to life a “second Eden” tale that highlights both the justice and mercy of the Creator, a God of grace and second chances.

Read the rest of my review for Converge, in which I discuss the film’s environmentalism and drawn upon Tim Keller and Charles Spurgeon, here.

Also, read this piece I wrote for TGC on the question of what Christians should think about biblical movies made by secular filmmakers.

For a few other reviews of the film, check out those by Alissa Wilkinson and Steven Greydanus.

If you’ve seen Noah, what were your thoughts?