Every once in awhile a film comes along that dares to try something revolutionary and step outside the proverbial box. I suspect that it all began with the critically-acclaimed Citizen Kane, with its use of silhouettes, close-ups, and going back and forth between past and present. As the “Godfather of Innovation,” Orson Welles raised the bar for future film makers everywhere, and each new flavor of “different” has been raising it another notch ever since.
Chronology has been a favorite guinea pig in the past few years. In Christopher Nolan’s Memento, the movie goes backwards. Each scene shows an amnesiac writing things down and reading his own clue-laden tattoos as he tries to figure out the identity of his wife’s murderer. Alejandro González Iñárritu’s 21 Grams is shown as if the scenes were cut into pieces, thrown on the floor, then put back together in random order. There is a sort of rhyme and a reason to them, showing how the three main characters degenerate, arrive at the choices they made, and come into one another’s lives–but it doesn’t make complete sense until the end. And then there is Guy Ritchie’s Snatch, which takes viewers through the misadventures of the main characters while intertwining events from another group of characters in the subplot. In the end, we see the same events from the subplot group’s perspective, and realize why everything went down the way it did.
Alternate reality has been another juicy theme. Peter Howitt’s Sliding Doors shows us the two possible paths a woman’s life could take as a result of missing her subway train one morning. Laetitia Columbani’s He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not delivers a shocker at its conclusion, and you learn that with some characters, all is not as it seems. To tell you any more would ruin everything. Ditto for David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive, David Fincher’s Fight Club, and M. Night Shyamalan’s The Sixth Sense.
American Beauty (Sam Mendes) stands alone in its unique experimentation with surreal fantasies. The main character tells the story of his midlife crisis, which culminates in his murder, as though watching it from the great beyond.
Pi (Darren Aronofsky) tried on the unusual look of a grainy, black and white film that matched the chaotic mental state of a mathematician trying to find the spiritual significance of numbers.
The Blair Witch Project (Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez), of course, had everyone wondering if the movie was actual handheld video found at the scene of occult-related disappearances.
Spike Jonze’s Being John Malkovich takes the cake as far as brand new premises are concerned. When a portal is discovered that leads directly into John Malkovich’s head (he good naturedly plays along with this theme and portrays himself), people begin to take advantage, much to Malkovich’s bewilderment and dismay.
These are the films that have people chattering at water coolers, over lattes in trendy coffee houses, across noisy bar tables and in online forums. They are the movies your friends insist that you must not only see, but bump to the top of your list. Highest accolades to the writers, directors, actors and producers of these risky films. They inject just the right amount of adventure into the world of cinematography, just when things start getting unimaginative and banal.