Best Films of the 21st Century That Weren’t on BBC’s List

BBC recently developed their list of the top 100 films of the century. While I agreed with many of them, there were other films that I noticed were missing but were worthy of the list. Among those films were Drive (2011), Ex Machina (2015), and American Psycho (2000), some of the most beautiful, unique, and definitive films of my lifetime (I’m only 21, but this is still a big deal to me).

DRIVE (2011)

The first time I saw the film I knew it was special. It felt different than any movie I had seen previously, although it used similar plot themes. Director Nicolas Winding Refn effortlessly mixes the tropes of both classic film noir and car films, adds a modern, dreamlike atmosphere, resulting in a beautifully violent American neo-noir. The film manages to include elements of overdone plots in a way that feels new and unique.

Drive is incredibly stylish, including everything from the scorpion jacket worn by Ryan Gosling to the beautifully crafted cinematography. Although it’s a driving film, it’s full of sophistication and sincere emotion. Realistic rather than fantastic, you care about the storyline instead of mindless chase sequences and violent fights. Through the believable performances by actors such as Ryan Gosling, Bryan Cranston, and Cary Mulligan, the film is a one of a kind movie that should have been not only on the list, but fairly high up.

EX MACHINA (2015)

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Ex Machina is my absolute favorite film. It is a brilliant, thought-inducing film that touches on both modern technology and gender roles. Alex Garland wrote and directed the sci-fi drama, which revolves around the idea of humanity. This sort-of twist on Frankenstein switches genders and updates the story to modern day. The film is narratively clever and aesthetically beautiful, although the plot itself is twisted, resulting in a grotesquely intriguing film.

The lighting of the film is exquisite, echoing the techniques of German expressionism. Full of shadows and distorting angles, the cinematography adds to the viewers growing feelings of discomfort as they watch the story unfold. The tension in the film builds slowly and naturally. The special effects are mesmerizing, convincing you that what is on the screen is real rather than being laughably fake. Sleek, ambiguous, and erotic, this commentary on male dominance and personal identity exudes originality. It deserves to be recognized as one of the best films of the century so far.

AMERICAN PSYCHO (2000)

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This film barely even fits in the timeline of the 21st century, but BBC counted films from 2000 so I will too. Although I don’t think American Psycho is as deserving as Ex Machina or Drive, I do think it should be on the list. Dark, satirical, and haunting, American Psycho is a film that is memorable. The quick-witted film is a gruesome commentary on materialism and narcissism. The characters represent the indifference that Americans possess in regards to other people and the ways in which society has become too self-involved. It takes mundane, every day conversations and forces you to realize the mechanical ways in which people interact.

Christian Bale plays Patrick Bateman as socially inept, and so blunt it is laughable, evoking a dark humor in the audience. We laugh at his mannerisms, particularly in the scene where he kills a colleague with an ax while dancing to Huey Lewis and the News. The contrast between the two actions is a theme that continues throughout the whole film, which is what makes the audience feel so off-kilter. You laugh uncomfortably during the film and when it is finished you feel completely disoriented. The darkness of the plot mixed with elegant cinematography results in an unnerving beauty that viewers will not forget, which is why I think it’s one of the best films of the century.

-B

Misogynistic Adaptation of Batgirl in The Killing Joke (2016)

I was so excited to finally watch the movie adaptation of the popular comic The Killing Joke. I had heard there was an extra prologue with a story centered around Batgirl, one of my favorite female superheroes. However, as the film went on, I grew sad. I was sad that this strong female character had been reduced to nothing but a prop for the male heroes.

In the original comic, that was the only role she played. She was there to be shot by the Joker to further the torment of her father, Commissioner Gordon. The writers decided that wasn’t good enough for a character as popular as Barbara Gordon, so they added in the prologue. What they didn’t do, like they originally intended, was make her character into something other than a prop. The prologue actually perpetuates that idea.

In the first half of the movie, on the surface it appears Batgirl is the focus. However, even when it’s just her on the screen, Batman is the actual focus. She is constantly pining for his love, talking to her coworker about him, and eventually quitting fighting crime because Batman isn’t reciprocating her feelings. All this does is set up Bruce’s pain in the second half of the movie. Her love for him is what puts her in danger. He goes after the Joker in a more violent manner because of Barbara.

Barbara getting shot is not about her pain. It is not about her struggle at all It is about perpetuating the pain that both Batman and Commissioner Gordon feel. She is used, in a more extensive way than the comic, as a prop for their emotions. The film also supports the idea that strong female characters are only strong because of the men around them. She only fights crime because Batman does, and she’s in love with him.

Also, there’s an extremely unnecessary sex scene between Batgirl and Batman. He is seen in this film acting as a father figure or a mentor. He constantly tells her how to fight, who to fight, and what not to do. The writers stated that they saw him acting in a parental manner towards Batgirl. So why did he then have sex with her? It’s also extremely telling that she’s the one shown stripping down. The only skin shown is Barbara in her bra. And then when Batman doesn’t want to “date” her, or whatever you’d call it in the crime fighting world, she is seen spiraling out of control and acting recklessly.

And what was up with Batman explaining what objectifying women is? Or the awkward period comment made by the villain “Paris Franz”? This movie is trying so hard to scream, “look, we aren’t sexist!” when in reality it treats its only female characters as a prop. Batgirl is the embodiment of misogynistic tropes. The film repeatedly presses the idea that women are too emotional to be rational crime-fighters. Her love for Bruce gets in the way of her properly dealing with the bad people. And her weird attraction for the sexist bad guy is totally off key. She naively falls into his traps as if she’s a kid, when she clearly is not a teenager in this movie. Batgirls literally calls the villain’s stalking of her “cute” and “flattering”, in a way that is not sarcastic. My jaw dropped. She isn’t treated as a hero in this film at all—she’s treated as a victim. Also, she’s completely objectified. There are multiple close ups of her butt as she jogs, and her breasts as she fights crime.

Barbara was assaulted and abused simply because they wanted to further Batman’s story and give him emotional depth. During a panel at Comic-Con, Brian Azzarello, the screenwriter of The Killing Joke actually said, “She controls the men in her life in the story” but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Initiating sex does not mean a woman controls the story. Batman controls her emotions and her crime-fighting and Joker controls her physical body when he cripples her and then sexually assaults her. Sex is definitely a way that women hold power in many films, but this is not one of them. The sex doesn’t come off as her acting empowered, it seems like it is pandering to the male gaze. And it honestly felt more like a fan-fiction that anything that would be written into the Batman Universe.

This film is an insult to everything the character of Batgirl represents, and I was incredibly upset by it. I’m tired of female characters in comic-books and their screen adaptations being there to simply serve as an object for male characters or readers.

Next time, don’t write about a strong female character if you know nothing about strong female characters. Batgirl deserved better.

-B

Review: Nerve (2016)

2.5 stars

Fast-paced, charming, and a bit predictable, Nerve offers viewers an entertaining, although forgettable, movie with flashy cinematography and editing.

Dave Franco and Emma Roberts star in this teenage-aimed, high-paced internet parable. The characters are cliché, but not unbearably so. Franco plays the mysterious bad boy, while Roberts plays the good girl—and everyone knows they’ll end up together from the first time they meet. Regardless, the actors had great chemistry and the audience was rooting for them to be together all the same.

The plot itself is a little too extreme to believe completely, but the commentary is relevant (although it’s obvious). Teenagers around the country begin to play a game called Nerve. They must choose if they want to be a “watcher” or a “player”. Watchers pay money to see the player act out ridiculous dares. Clearly, it escalates out of control and is highly dangerous to those involved. The entire premise is based around the cultural obsession of being on phones, and the ways in which the internet desensitizes us to violence. It’s easy to hide behind a screen, blah, blah, blah.

Nerve has a consistent tone of suspense throughout it, and many people in the theater were literally on the edge of their seat. I found myself biting my nails a few times, even though I acknowledged that much of the risk-taking was bound to end in a predictable way (and it did). The ending is wrapped up all too easily, but the film had its moments of thrilling suspense that didn’t feel too cliché and offered a few real scares.

The glowing, colorful lights of New York City provided the needed neon backdrop for such a technologically centered film, meshing with the synthesized pop songs playing in the background. The glitzy lighting makes it feel almost like a music video, highlighting the focus on pop culture and social media. The editing was well-matched with the modern, atmospheric shots, taking us inside of the character’s phones and into the world of social media. In the scenes meant to be riddled with tension, the editing is perfectly paced, letting moments linger just a little longer to cause viewers to feel uneasy, or snapping different shots together quickly to make them feel overwhelmed.

The entire movie was obviously meant to be relatable to teenagers, and it does that very well. My little sister is 17 and she adored the film. I enjoyed it, although it was a bit too cheesy for my taste. Going in I wasn’t too excited, but I came out liking it more than originally expected. The film isn’t groundbreaking by any means, but it’s a fun and fast-paced movie to watch.

There are worse films to watch on movie night.

-B

Review: Suicide Squad (2016)

 

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Suicide Squad is probably the most anticipated film of the year—and according to a lot of viewers, the biggest let down. The film struggles to deliver the irreverent, dark, and quirky story the trailers promised and manages to entangle its characters in an overdone, unoriginal plot and horrible CGI. While it isn’t a colossal mess like Batman v Superman, it is by no means where DC needs to be. However, I found the film to be enjoyable and was mostly pleased with the performances and characterization of the beloved DC comic book characters. Suicide Squad manages to provide mindless fun regardless of the meager storyline and whirlwind pacing. Comic book fans will be fairly satisfied.

A secret task force of the most dangerous supervillains in the world working to save the world is promising, when done correctly. The movie was so hyped up by the studios that it was hard to go in without being slightly disappointed. The characters have so much potential and that potential was underutilized. The characterization of Harley Quinn was certainly a highlight of the film. I’ve adored the character since I was a little kid, so her live action debut was extremely important to me, and I was pleasantly surprised with it. Margot Robbie portrays the unstable, Joker-crazed character perfectly, depicting Harley’s damaged and chaotic personality in an empowering and emotional manner. The cotton-candy colored character enacts violence with a giddiness that is straight from the pages of a comic book, and she included the iconic accent on a more subtle level than past cartoons. Robbie did the best she could under the misogynistic situation the film put her in. While Harley’s character has always been sexual and uses that sexuality as a weapon of power, the film manages to objectify her, presenting her as an object for the male audience with slow, sensual pans up her half-naked body. It was curious to me that Harley Quinn and Enchantress were scantily clad while the majority of male characters were in head to toe armor. There’s a difference between being sexual and being objectified, and the director clearly didn’t acknowledge that line (and if you’re argument is that Harley is over-sexualized in the comics, well, surprise, comics can be misogynistic too).

Other cast members stood out as well, although none as brightly as Robbie. Will Smith shone as the gun-slinging assassin Deadshot, bringing a more stable and realistic characterization to the movie than any of his teammates. He and Robbie manage to anchor their cast mates and bring some stability to a chaotic plot. Unlike many audience-members, I applauded Jared Leto’s performance as a twisted, flashy Joker, which he played with instability and an underlying psychotic rage that was mystifying and impressive. According to Leto, many of the scenes he filmed were cut, which results in a lack of continuity in his storyline. His parts of the film seem a bit inconsistent and he continually shows up seemingly out of nowhere. Compared to the hype of his character, there was a severe lack of the Clown Prince of Crime in the film.

The pace of the film was incredibly jarring. The beginning of the film was a whirlwind of trying to set up identities of each of the main characters. They were each summarized in a way that seemed forced, but worked well enough. The film is set up better than Batman v Superman, and the cast has a great chemistry that helps the banter amongst the team feel believable. The second half of the film was fully of each character fighting in their own personal ways, but there was a lack of urgency as they grew closer to the “end of the world” (and what exactly was Enchantresses plan, anyway? It’s not exactly clear).Throughout the film the tone shifts drastically, trying to be lighthearted and funny while dark and gritty. The flashback scenes of Harley and Joker were mystical, psychedelic, and tragic, while the scenes of the entire squad working together were attempting to be quirky, comical, and irreverent.  The film was split between those two tones, failing to choose one and resulting in inconsistency and confusion. It’s as if David Ayer wanted to tell a dark and cynical story while the studio pressured him to make a film more lighthearted, like Guardians of the Galaxy, in order to compete with Marvel. Ayer has his name on this film, but I don’t believe it is the film he set out to make.

Suicide Squad does not deserve the horrific reviews it is receiving, but it doesn’t deserve any awards either. Although it didn’t live up to the hype, it manages to be a fun and entertaining movie with lovable characters worthy of a comic book nerd’s time. It was a small step forward for DC compared to Batman v Superman, but they still have a long way to walk. Hopefully this is a trend, and each movie will be better than the last.

Help us Wonder Woman, you’re our only hope.

-B