Every week, the Criticwire Survey asks film and TV critics two questions and publishes the results on Monday morning. (The answer to the second, “What is the best film in theaters right now?” can be found at the end of this post.) Send suggestions for future questions to sam at indiewire dot com.
a version of Lars Von Trier’s The Five Obstructions where
established filmmakers must make a movie under conditions that prevent
them from falling back on their usual tricks. What filmmaker(s) would
you like to see take on this challenge, and how would you limit/inspire
Max O’Connell, Rapid City Journal
I have three that came to mind. First, I’d like to see Steven Spielberg scale way back and show what he can do on the kind of shoestring budget he had on “Duel.” Spielberg is one of the most visually intuitive directors of his generation, and while I’ve loved plenty of his mega-budgeted films, I’d be curious to see how creative he’d get if he had most of his resources stripped away (bonus restrictions: work with someone other than Janusz Kaminski and John Williams). Second, I’d push a hyper-verbal director like Alex Ross Perry to make a movie with no dialogue and ask him to illustrate his pet themes entirely through sound and image with none of the Cassavetes-esque close-ups he’s used in his previous features. Finally, I’d like to have Paul Thomas Anderson, who’s become a master of using his actors’ faces, try to shoot something without showing their faces at all. If we’re assuming they’re doing a Leth/von Trier thing and remaking previous movies (or, in this case, scenes from previous movies), I pick the alien emergence in “War of the Worlds,” Ike’s double-date gone wrong in “Listen Up Philip” and the processing scene in “The Master.”
Josh Spiegel, Movie Mezzanine
This is a great “What if?” idea, to the point where there are too many filmmakers to list here (I’m going to only throw out one obstruction per person, and five directors in total). For Christopher Nolan: make a new movie with only diegetic music. (Or, at the very least, no Hans Zimmer score.) For M. Night Shyamalan: direct a movie without contributing to the script in any way. For James Cameron: direct a movie with zero special effects. For Quentin Tarantino, as writer: write a film with zero profanity. (That one might break him.) For Sofia Coppola: make a new movie that features no modern rock songs. (Maybe Zimmer can shift from Nolan to Coppola for this one.)
Tim Grierson, Screen International, Deadspin
My pick is certainly not punitive, and certainly not because I think these filmmakers have a shtick — really, it’s based on my own petty self-interest. I’ve always loved the Dardenne brothers’ films, but I’ve often thought in recent years, “I wonder what would happen if they made a movie in the States?” Some of the best commentaries on this country have come from outsiders working inside the U.S. — Paul Verhoeven, Steve McQueen are two examples that come to mind — and so I’d be fascinated to see what the men behind “Two Days, One Night” and “L’enfant” would have to say about the Land of the Free. On one level, their films are fairly universal, but because the Dardennes often focus on society’s most vulnerable—the poor, the young, the troubled — their thematic interests intersect potently with a nation that continues to be pretty abysmal at addressing its income gap and caring for its neediest.
Maybe that curiosity is based on a nagging disappointment I have about America: I suppose what I really want is the Dardenne brothers to validate what I feel is shameful in this country. But I have to say that, in general, I like when filmmakers leave their home countries to make movies in other lands. Part of what makes Hong Sang-soo’s “Night and Day” or Hou Hsiao-hsien’s “Flight of the Red Balloon” so invigorating is the collision of cultures. At this point, someone will probably mention Wong Kar-Wai’s derided “My Blueberry Nights.” To which I’ll say that I found his impression of America to be one of the most interesting things about that movie: more of a fantasy based on other movies set in America than an accurate depiction. Still, pretty engaging.
Kyle Turner, Under the Radar
I’d like to see the Coen Brothers do a screwball comedy as a “bottle”
film with extended takes. “Bottle” meaning it takes place in a single
location (like “Clue”). Though the Coens have done screwball in the past (arguably, several of them could be considered as such, especially “The Hudsucker Proxy”),
their editing style is median in terms of shot length. Seeing them
extend shots, and maybe even stillness, for minutes at a time, I think,
would be an interesting challenge for them, juxtaposed against a genre
that lives in rapidity and anxiety.
Richard Brody, New Yorker
Directing is, from the start, facing five and five times five and still more obstructions. Here’s Jean-Luc Godard, in 1991, from Trafic magazine: “cores covered in dust, lenses poorly fitted… overpaid overtime… splicer not cleaned… focus regularly missing… the thousand that’s missing at the end… shaky tracking shots… lighting that murders light.” Every aspect of movie-making, from relations with producers and actors to locations to props to equipment to money, poses obstructions. Filmmakers don’t do what they want but what they can with what they’ve got or haven’t got. If Von Trier thinks that, in the absence of planned obstructions, filmmakers ever do what they want, it only reveals the thinness of what he wants and the low threshold of his self-satisfaction. These stunts might make for a good reality-TV show. Project Redlight. But for filmmakers of any real importance to be hamstrung for the amusement of a braying crowd is just adolescent cruelty. Sounds like a Von Trier film.
Scott Mendelson, Forbes
For what it’s worth, two of my favorite filmmakers had relative artistic comebacks over the last twelve months somewhat playing in this “go outside the safe zone” notion. To wit, Tim Burton’s “Big Eyes” was a real-world story with none of his usual repertory players, and a non-fiction tale that couldn’t really go into fantasy land. The result was a terrific and angry little gem that nonetheless felt like a Tim Burton movie through-and-through. The same goes with M. Night Shyamalan’s “The Visit,” which was a $5 million found-footage thriller with a bigger focus on explicit comedy and not a single movie star to be found. The result is a back-to-basics winner that is his best movie in 13 years while still feeling like a part of the M. Night Shyamalan filmography in terms of its themes and its artistic strengths.
Yes, there would be some interest in seeing Michael Bay do a straight character drama, but otherwise I tend to think that most of our best filmmakers and actors have genuinely stretched themselves over the course of their careers. The same Martin Scorsese who made “Goodfellas” made “Hugo” and Ang Lee is diversification personified even as many of his films play with his favorite themes. I’m a little torn on the question to be honest. The filmmakers that tend to benefit from getting out of their safe zone are ones in a slump or relying on specific tropes in the service of disappointing movies, so whatever it takes for them to make a good movie is welcome.
The counterpoint is someone like Roland Emmerich, who is quite good at making the kind of mainstream, crowd pleasing action/disaster films that made him a name but seems to utterly fall on his face whenever he tries to stretch. And conversely, someone like Wes Anderson and Quentin Tarantino is very good at their kinds of movies. Sure, let any of these people dabble in different genres, but I think taking away their toys only works in a case when the resulting films aren’t that good. In terms of stretching, I generally prefer seeing famously serious actors do comedy than famously funny actors doing drama. We all know which is harder, despite what films do and don’t win awards.
Danny Bowes, retiree
For a variety of reasons, but most importantly because I think the result could be interesting, I would request the following five, and these five only, obstructions for Quentin Tarantino:
a) He must shoot entirely in a digital format
b) The film must be between 90-105 minutes in length
c) The film can contain no direct quotes, be they verbal, visual, or aural, from any other work of art.
d) The film can contain no allusions to Tarantino’s other work
e) No one is allowed to die.
These are not meant to be taken as shade on his existing work. Just curious to see what would happen.
Luke Y. Thompson, The Robot’s Voice
1. Tim Burton – you must utilize an entirely original script not based on any pre-existing material (including true stories) and cast it with people you have never worked with before (I’ll allow Paul Reubens, but nobody else).
James Cameron: Make whatever you want but the budget cannot go over $5 million.
George Lucas: You have to make that experimental movie you’ve said you want to make for decades now. It must be genuinely experimental, and you don’t ever get any CGI do-overs.
Peter Jackson: Make a horror movie for Blumhouse, with all the attendant restrictions (i.e. it’s pretty much just set in one house).
Ben Affleck: Act in a Lars von Trier movie, and you don’t get to say no to anything he asks.
Quentin Tarantino: make a black and white silent movie, utilizing only filmmaking technology of the 1920s.
Anne-Katrin Titze, Eye For Film
With the North American premiere of Jake Paltrow and Noah Baumbach’s “De Palma” on Wednesday as a Special Event of the New York Film Festival, Brian De Palma is my obstructionist of choice.
1. No stalking women
2. No blood
3. No Hitchcock citations
4. No split screen
5. No remakes of mediocre European films
And what I am still hoping for is Alexander Payne taking on the challenge of making a musical.
Mike McGranaghan, The Aisle Seat, One Perfect Shot
I’d like to challenge Christopher Nolan to make a movie under the following conditions:
1. No use of scientific concepts or theories in the plot
2. No special effects/CGI
3. The film can have no more than four characters
4. No action sequences
5. It must be a comedy
My reason? Nolan has established himself as a brilliant director of big, high-tech “event” films. It would be interesting to see if he could pull off something intimate and funny with the same flair. I suspect that he could, and it would be great fun to see what he would come up with.
Peter Howell, Toronto Star
I would like to see The Intern’s Nancy Meyers do a post-apocalypse zombie movie, one where her characters don’t live in multi-million-dollar brownstones, have kitchens fit for a celebrity chef or fly first class to business meetings. If they have all these things, they’d have to be in ruins — because, well, apocalypse, eh? Also curious how she’d dress the zombies. Does Prada or Armani go better with oozing facial sores?
Charles Bramesco, Random Nerds, Newsweek
My knee-jerk response was to joke “Make Paul Thomas Anderson direct a picture with someone like Adam Sandler in the lead” except wait, no, he already did that and it went great. My real challenge would be for good ol’ Aarok Sokin: write a script in which everyone hears everybody else clearly the first time, and nobody repeats anything said previously in the script. Every sentence must be made up of words that drive the conversation forward, with no linguistic loop-de-loops allowed.
Joey Magidson, The Awards Circuit
I’m always appreciative of an artist trying something new, though in many cases their specific style is why I’m a fan of their work. As a compromise, I’d like to have Aaron Sorkin take on the challenge. My limitation would be that he couldn’t write any of his long walking and talking sequences. That doesn’t remove any of his trademark dialogue, which I find brilliant, but it does require him to set things in more kinetic environments and not fall back on an old faithful.
Q: What is the best movie in theaters?