#389. Peter Hedges

There are plenty of actors who have made the jump from being in front of the camera to being behind it. This is so much the norm that it is rare to find someone who works on a movie in a different capacity moving to the director’s chair. However, of these non-acting roles, writers have the best chance of becoming successful directors. Many directors already write the screenplays for their films, so it’s no wonder that writers could merely add on directorial duties to their involvement, thus ensuring their words are accurately portrayed on the screen. Peter Hedges is just such a writer. He has only directed a few movies, but he found his start by turning his breakout novel, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, into the 1993 film version of the same name. This week’s two films highlight some gems in Peter Hedges’ limited directorial career.

The Odd Life of Timothy GreenThe Odd Life of Timothy Green
Year: 2012
Rating: PG
Length: 105 minutes / 1.75 hours

Even though Peter Hedges has co-written most of his recent films, the themes of family and the interactions between parents and children remains strong. In What’s Eating Gilbert Grape (1993), Hedges wrote about how individuals deal with parents and siblings who might have challenging conditions like obesity or autism. His next script, for the film A Map of the World (1999), and based on the book by Jane Hamilton, deals with how parents cope with the death of a child. Three years later, Hedges would be nominated for the Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar for his work on About a Boy (2002), which deals with parenthood—both as single parents and as a married couple. This theme is expounded upon in The Odd Life of Timothy Green (2012), which he co-wrote the screenplay for as well as directed.

The Greens, Jim (Joel Edgerton) and Cindy (Jennifer Garner) are surprised to find a 10-year-old boy named Timothy (CJ Adams) in their house. They are even more amazed when he says he’s their son. After being told they cannot have children, the Greens had given up on the notion of having kids of their own. And yet, here Timothy is. Deciding to play along, both of Timothy’s “parents” take him to family activities, slowly realizing he’s the “ideal” child they wanted all along. Despite being the perfect kid, Timothy has a unique attribute: leaves growing from his legs. These leaves start to fall off as he is able to fulfill all the wants and desires of his parents. Each of these leaves is eventually given to a person Timothy affected positively until there are no leaves left and he disappears as mysteriously as he had first appeared. Shortly afterward, the Greens are able to adopt a child they can “officially” call their own.

Dan in Real LifeDan in Real Life
Year: 2007
Rating: PG-13
Length: 98 minutes / 1.63 hours

A year after About a Boy released, Hedges made his directorial debut with Pieces of April (2002). Following the separate journeys of a daughter and her family as she prepares to host Thanksgiving dinner, the film highlights the challenges of a family filled with estrangement and relatives on the verge of death. In the end, Hedges excels at bringing the relationships of his characters into the spotlight. The next film he directed, Dan in Real Life (2007), goes back to the motif of gathering family members together as certain members experience a transition between life stages of loss and love. It’s no wonder his most recent film, Ben is Back (2018), centers around a son who comes home to his family on Christmas Eve in need of serious help. Perhaps these elements of Hedges’ films are what make them so relatable: we’ve all been in uncomfortable family situations, but family is family.

Dan (Steve Carell) has a lot to deal with in his life. Not only does he have a job as an advice columnist in a New Jersey newspaper, but he is the recently single father of three girls after the death of his wife. To help overcome some of the grief of his loss, Dan takes his daughters up to Rhode Island for an annual family gathering at his parents’ house. Upon meeting his family again, Dan finds himself irked by his brother Mitch (Dane Cook), who has always enjoyed the single life that Dan now finds thrust upon him again. Fortunately, a ray of hope arrives in the form of Marie (Juliette Binoche), a woman Dan meets in a nearby bookstore. Unfortunately, Marie is Mitch’s girlfriend, a fact he learns when she shows up at the family gathering. Despite trying to overcome this blow to his self-esteem, Dan eventually gathers up the courage to tell Marie how he feels about her, even if it might hurt his brother.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 families filled with feelings by Peter Hedges

Bacon #: 2 (Ben is Back (directed) / Julia Roberts -> Flatliners / Kevin Bacon)

#386. The Three Amigos

Filmmaking, like any creative pursuit, can bring together people with similar goals. This is the foundation of any community. Even within these communities, individuals can bond over their shared past experiences. These bonds are how groups like the “Three Amigos” form. Rising to prominence in Hollywood at the turn of the millennium, the Three Amigos consists of three successful filmmakers from Mexico: Guillermo del Toro, Alejandro González Iñárritu, and Alfonso Cuarón. These three directors have dominated the Academy Awards in the last decade, winning four Best Director Oscars in five years. I’ve already discussed the works of Guillermo del Toro in a previous post so this week’s two films will highlight the movies created by the other two Amigos: Alejandro González Iñárritu and Alfonso Cuarón.

                     Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
Year: 2014Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
Rating: R
Length: 119 minutes / 1.98 hours

Alejandro González Iñárritu hasn’t been directing as long as del Toro and Cuarón have, but his short list of films have already earned plenty of accolades. His breakout film, Amores perros (2000) was nominated for the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film, a feat he would repeat a decade later with Biutiful (2010). Regarding his directing talent, he was first nominated for the Best Director Oscar with Babel (2006), a film also nominated for Best Picture as well. He would go on to win the Best Director Oscar twice, being only the third director to do so in back-to-back years. While The Revenant (2016) earned him his second Best Director statuette, it did not win Best Picture that year. However, the year prior, Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) earned Iñárritu three Oscars: Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Original Screenplay.

The Broadway play, “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love,” is the passion project of Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton), a washed-up actor who used to be known for his superhero persona, Birdman. To get his play off the ground, he has enlisted the help of his best friend, Jake (Zach Galifianakis) as the producer, his girlfriend Laura (Andrea Riseborough) as co-star, and his daughter Sam (Emma Stone) as his assistant. Using his actual superpowers to take out one of the cast members, Riggan must then accept that the replacement, Mike Shiner (Edward Norton), is part of the reason the play is getting any attention from theatre critic Tabitha Dickinson (Lindsay Duncan). While the previews are disastrous, Riggan achieves a sense of peace before performing the opening night, shooting himself in the head on-stage in an action the critic describes as “super-realism.”

Children of MenChildren of Men
Year: 2006
Rating: R
Length: 109 minutes / 1.82 hours

Of the Three Amigos, Alfonso Cuarón and Guillermo del Toro are perhaps the most similar. Cuarón started his career in the mid-1980s as an assistant director before making his jump to the director’s seat with Sólo con tu pareja (1991). He would go on to direct A Little Princess (1995), and a modern adaptation of Dickens’ Great Expectations (1998) before Y Tu Mamá También (2001) earned him a Best Screenplay Oscar nomination. Much like del Toro directed Blade II (2002) to help advance his career, Cuarón directed Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004), thus giving his style exposure to fans of the Harry Potter franchise. His next Oscar nominations would come in the form of Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Editing for Children of Men (2006), but his first wins would be for Best Director and Best Film Editing for Gravity (2013). His latest work, Roma (2018), returns to his Mexican roots.

In 2009, the last baby was born. Almost two decades later, the lack of new children has pushed the world to the edge of destruction. To maintain some semblance of stability, the United Kingdom has evolved into a military state. Since the UK is one of the few functioning societies left, many refugees are seeking asylum. One such refugee is Kee (Clare-Hope Ashitey), a young woman who must have someone accompany her for her transit. Theo Faron (Clive Owen) is offered a significant amount of money to accompany Kee, who he learns is pregnant with the first child to be born in nearly 18 years. This situation puts Theo and Kee amid a war for this newborn, some of whom want to study it to cure the world’s infertility and some of whom want it as a political statement. In either case, Theo and Kee are able to escape, in part due to the awe of seeing a newborn baby after so long without one.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 Mexican movie maestros

Bacon #: 2 (Quantum of Solace (Alfonso Cuarón) / David Harbour -> Black Mass / Kevin Bacon)

#377. Alan J. Pakula

Some directors might not be prolific, but the movies they make are profound statements about humanity that stick with us over time. One almost wonders if the jobs they had before directing helped them to see the world in a slightly more significant way. From 1969 to 1997, Alan J. Pakula only directed 16 films, but at least a few of them have continued to be recognized for their greatness. Before he became a director, he had produced seven movies, including the Best Picture nominee, To Kill a Mockingbird (1962). His penchant for legal and political thrillers was present through his nearly 30 years of directing, and Pakula certainly showed how it could be done and done well. Even though he died at the age of 70 due to a car accident, his films will live on in posterity. This week’s two films highlight some of the best of director Alan J. Pakula.

                                                                  All the President’s MenAll the President's Men
Year: 1976
Rating: PG
Length: 138 minutes / 2.30 hours

While To Kill a Mockingbird was the first film Pakula produced to be nominated for Best Picture, All the President’s Men (1976) was the first film he directed to be nominated for this prestigious award. Many consider some of his previous films, like Klute (1971) and The Parallax View (1974), to be precursors to this political thriller. With all the legal implications that can come from accusing the White House of something as serious as the Watergate scandal, Alan J. Pakula showed us how a political thriller can be just as much of a legal thriller, even if it never gets to the courtroom. Some of his later works, like Presumed Innocent (1990) and The Pelican Brief (1993), continue in the same legal thriller genre Pakula has shown he knows how to handle. Still, All the President’s Men is his most famous, even being recognized on the American Film Institute’s (AFI’s) Top 100 list at #77.

The burglary of the Democratic National Committee isn’t considered to be important, but The Washington Post decides to report on it anyway. What initially seems like a routine robbery soon becomes much more suspicious as the thieves are shown to have connections to former CIA employees who themselves are connected to individuals in Richard Nixon’s inner circle. Diving further into this conspiracy, Bob Woodward (Robert Redford) contacts his anonymous informant, “Deep Throat” (Hal Holbrook), and learns this incident goes all the way to the top of the government. Woodward and his reporting partner, Carl Bernstein (Dustin Hoffman), need substantial evidence that the president is behind these wrongdoings since any false accusations could be considered slander and could possibly endanger their lives if the allegations are true. The two reporters write the article anyway and leave the rest to fate.

Sophie’s ChoiceSophie's Choice
Year: 1982
Rating: R
Length: 150 minutes / 2.50 hours

Along with All the President’s Men, another of Alan J. Pakula’s films, Sophie’s Choice (1982) managed to break onto the AFI’s Top 100 list at #91. It’s no wonder why, considering it was nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay and ended up earning Meryl Streep her first Best Actress Oscar (but her second Oscar overall at the time). Pakula wrote the screenplay for three other films he directed, including the aforementioned Presumed Innocent and The Pelican Brief. And while Sophie’s Choice isn’t necessarily the same as his legal or political thrillers, there is certainly a good amount of drama present in this Holocaust period piece. The fact that “Sophie’s Choice” is practically a verb in today’s popular culture just goes to show how significant a film it has remained over the decades since its release.

Zofia “Sophie” Zawistowski (Meryl Streep) is a Polish immigrant who moved to Brooklyn after the horrors of the Holocaust left her alone. Back in Europe, she was married and had a happy life with her two children. Sophie seems to be trying to regain her happiness in New York but ends up being in an abusive relationship with Nathan Landau (Kevin Kline). After becoming friends with a writer named Stingo (Peter MacNicol), she eventually runs to him when Nathan is revealed to be a paranoid schizophrenic and reacts violently shortly afterward. During their time together, Sophie tells Stingo about how she had to choose which of her children would be sent to a Nazi work camp and which one would be executed. Even though Stingo wants to help Sophie, she returns to Nathan, and the two of them die shortly afterward.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 awesome Alan J. Pakula movies

Bacon #: 2 (Klute (directed) / Donald Sutherland -> Animal House / Kevin Bacon)

#375. Jason Reitman

It can be tough to grow up in the shadow of your parents’ success. Furthermore, when your father is comedy director Ivan Reitman, the challenge can be even greater. While Ivan directed such classic comedies as Stripes (1981) and Ghostbusters (1984), his son, Jason Reitman, has shown he has the skills to follow in his father’s footsteps. Perhaps the exposure to the film-making industry at such a young age is what helped develop Jason Reitman into the director he is today. Even though Jason’s films aren’t nearly as sophomoric as many of his father’s, they still have a sharp edge of comedy that he uses to examine many controversial topics. In fact, Jason’s ability to create meaningful comedies earned him a few Oscar nominations, an accomplishment his father never managed with the screwball comedies he created in the 1980s. This week’s two films highlight some of Jason Reitman’s best works.

Up in the AirUp in the Air
Year: 2009
Rating: R
Length: 109 minutes / 1.82 hours

Jason Reitman’s films have earned critical acclaim for their portrayal of the human condition. From teenage pregnancy to getting fired, these life-changing moments can also be filled with comedic irony. Certain themes, like family and relationships, have been a common occurrence in Reitman’s films, including Young Adult (2011), Men, Women & Children (2014), and Tully (2018). Perhaps the most relatable moments in life are what propelled his films like Juno (2007) and Up in the Air (2009) into critical success. Both earned nominations for Best Picture, as well as Best Director nods for Reitman. What sets these films apart from his other works is his ability to convey the decisions we make in our lives, as well as the ones made for us by entities outside of our control. In the end, films like Juno and Up in the Air focus on the most fundamental element of humanity: relationships.

Ryan Bingham (George Clooney) has no home. He’s not homeless, but rather a businessman who travels and enjoys the experience so much that he doesn’t have a permanent address. As a minimalist, he gives motivational speeches about “What’s in Your Backpack?” to highlight how a life free of connections is liberating. Of course, the irony is that his job is to help companies fire their employees. He needs to travel to each of these businesses in person, as the termination process is something he feels needs to be done in person. When Natalie Keener (Anna Kendrick) introduces a video teleconference option, Ryan’s jet-set lifestyle might be in jeopardy. After attending his younger sister’s wedding and realizing that some amount of stability is beneficial, Ryan begins to rethink his philosophy of life.

Thank You for SmokingThank You for Smoking
Year: 2005
Rating: R
Length: 92 minutes / 1.53 hours

Ivan Reitman directed many films with ridiculous premises, like Twins (1988), Kindergarten Cop (1990), and Junior (1994). This is probably why Jason Reitman’s first feature-length film, Thank You for Smoking (2005), carries some of this ridiculousness over into the next generation. However, Thank You for Smoking relies on taking a controversial idea to its ultimate and logical conclusion instead of merely asking the question of “what if?” no matter how crazy that question may be. This is perhaps the greatest difference between Jason Reitman’s films and the films of his father: Jason’s films feel like they could actually happen. Since Thank You for Smoking was still early in Reitman’s directing career, there is a political focus that can be implied from his father’s films (like Stripes (1981) and Dave (1993)).

We all know smoking kills, but that still doesn’t stop lobbyists like Nick Naylor (Aaron Eckhart) from using his spin tactics to show there is no link between smoking tobacco and lung cancer. Granted, the study that shows this lack of correlation was funded by the tobacco lobby. Since anti-tobacco sentiments are growing, Nick travels to Los Angeles to convince movie producers to add cigarette product placements in their films. Ironically enough, even the former Marlboro Man (Sam Elliott) is dying of cancer and is against the advertising of cigarettes. With legislation to put a skull and crossbones on packages of cigarettes, Nick hits the talk-show circuit to preach consumer choice to the nation. He still holds these beliefs, even after an attempt on his life using nicotine patches to give him nicotine poisoning. Now that he can’t ever smoke again, he finds this is the right time to start his own firm.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 relatable Jason Reitman movies

Bacon #: 2 (Dave / Frank Langella -> Frost/Nixon / Kevin Bacon)

#370. D.W. Griffith

Some directors may have been prolific, but then there are directors like D.W. Griffith. In the 23 years of his career, he directed over 500 movies. Most of these films were directed before 1914, as Griffith made the newfound medium of filmmaking his playground to discover and cement many of the film techniques we know today. It’s weird to think the close-up shot wasn’t widely used before Griffith made it a standard. It is also interesting to note that Griffith worked almost exclusively in the medium of silent films. Of his 518 movies, only two were with sound: Abraham Lincoln (1930) and The Struggle (1931). These were the last two films he ever directed. With a catalog of movies this large, there are bound to be a few gems. This week’s two films highlight some of the most significant films D.W. Griffith ever directed.

The Birth of a NationThe Birth of a Nation
Year: 1915
Rating: Not Rated
Length: 195 minutes / 3.25 hours

Partly because the length of a reel of film was a technical limitation, many directors of the silent era made their movies on a single reel of film. At a length of 1,000 feet, silent movies could fit about 15 minutes of footage on a single reel. Longer movies would often advertise their run-time in terms of reels. With so many short films in circulation, it was a little odd to find D.W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation (1915) was comprised of a whopping 12 reels. Even modern movies rarely break a three-hour run-time, but this silent spectacle certainly does. With movies like this, D.W. Griffith ushered in the era of the “feature-length” movie. He showed how much could be done in 12 reels of film, not only in terms of plot but also in terms of the creative and artistic methods used to tell a story of this length.

The Camerons of South Carolina enlist to fight the Civil War and soon find that Ben Cameron (Henry B. Walthall) is the only surviving son of his two brothers. His headstrong attitude caused him to lead a charge at a major battle and earned him a nickname: “The Little Colonel.” Unfortunately, he is captured after being wounded in battle. While he is accused of treason by the Union and sentenced to hang, his mother asks Abraham Lincoln to pardon him and has her request granted. After Lincoln is assassinated, Ben finds the freed slaves of the South are using underhanded techniques to become elected officials. These former slaves don’t seem to know proper manners for governing individuals, which is why Ben tries to “scare” them into behaving by starting the ghost-themed Ku Klux Klan. Soon, order returns as the Klansmen ensure the slaves are no longer stuffing ballot boxes.

IntoleranceIntolerance
Year: 1916
Rating: Not Rated
Length: 197 minutes / 3.28 hours

If The Birth of a Nation was long, Griffith’s follow-up, Intolerance (1916) was even longer. Around 200 minutes long, this epic is actually four different stories told in parallel. Because of the backlash he received for the racially insensitive The Birth of a Nation, Griffith answered the only way he knew how: through film. He wanted to show intolerance in its many forms as a form of apology for glorifying the racist ideals of the Ku Klux Klan in his previous movie. Fortunately, this apology seemed to work, as he continued to direct many films after this point, including the classics Broken Blossoms (1919), Way Down East (1920), and Orphans of the Storm (1921). Regarding his legacy, the American Film Institute originally put The Birth of a Nation on its Top 100 list in 1998, replacing it with Intolerance during the 10th Anniversary list. A fitting substitution, considering the original circumstances.

To show “Love’s Struggle Throughout the Ages” (the subtitle for this film), Griffith follows four instances of intolerance across history. The oldest story is from the Babylonians, whose intolerance between different sects of followers of two different gods led to their demise. Even Jesus Christ (Howard Gaye) Himself experienced intolerance, the penultimate result of which was His eventual crucifixion. Centuries later, Catholics were intolerant of Protestants, which resulted in the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre. Finally, in the modern times of 1914, the socially backward situation that leads to a man being sentenced to hang just for protecting his wife from the boss who put him in prison the first time. Most of these moments of intolerance end in tragedy. There is one story that does manage to pull out a happy ending, while still enforcing the huge influence intolerance has over people.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 great D.W. Griffith movies

Bacon #: 3 (San Francisco / Roger Imhof -> Man Hunt / Roddy McDowall -> The Big Picture / Kevin Bacon)

#368. Howard Hawks

It is rare to find a director who can direct across the spectrum of film genres. Often, a director’s style will dictate their genre. I mean, we’re not likely to see a horror film by Michael Bay. And while versatile directors like Christopher Nolan can span many genres, there are still a few outside their style. That being said, I wouldn’t mind seeing a Christopher Nolan comedy, as I’m sure it would be mind-bending and visually stunning. Steven Spielberg might be the one modern director who can successfully direct movies in any genre, but back when the film industry was just getting started, a few directors could “do it all.” One of these directors was none other than Howard Hawks. Back then, the ability to direct across all genres was likely more out of necessity than it was for resume padding. This week’s two films highlight some of Howard Hawk’s versatility as a director.

Sergeant YorkSergeant York
Year: 1941
Rating: Approved
Length: 134 minutes / 2.23 hours

Despite a large number of notable films, Howard Hawks never won an Oscar for Best Director during his career. He was nominated once for Sergeant York (1941), likely due to the peak of his career. In the lead up to the war movie that is Sergeant York (which itself was nominated for Best Picture), he directed two comedies, Bringing Up Baby (1938) and His Girl Friday (1940), as well as the drama, Only Angels Have Wings (1940). Of course, he directed many other classics after Sergeant York, including the musical, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953), the western, Rio Bravo (1959), and the John Wayne adventure, Hatari! (1962). Hawks even managed to direct a sci-fi film with The Thing from Another World (1951), thus proving that he can direct pretty much any major genre that exists.

While Alvin York’s (Gary Cooper) hellion lifestyle has caused his mother much consternation, once he met Gracie Williams (Joan Leslie), he started to turn his life around. Promising to marry her once he can obtain a farm, Alvin works relentlessly at raising the necessary money, only to have his hopes and dreams dashed when the offer is pulled out from underneath him. Before he can right the wrong, Alvin is struck by lightning and finds God in the process. Shortly afterward, Alvin is drafted into the Army for World War I, despite his newfound abhorrence to killing. However, in the heat of battle, Alvin realizes he must kill in order to save his comrades. Using his skill as a sharpshooter, Alvin saves the day and returns home a hero. After he turns down offers to cash in on his fame, he finds that his hometown bought the farm he was eyeing and gave it to him as a gift.

ScarfaceScarface
Year: 1932
Rating: Passed
Length: 93 minutes / 1.55 hours

What’s interesting about Howard Hawks, aside from the numerous genres he could direct, was that his career started back in the silent era. Being able to successfully transition from the realm of silent films to the “talkies” is no small feat, especially considering how many directors and actors from that time failed to adapt to the technology that was permanently changing the way audiences experienced movies. While he only directed seven silent films, they also shared the diversity in genre he kept up during his career (four comedies, one drama, one romance, and one film noir). When sound became available, it wasn’t long until Hawks was directing classics like the crime drama, Scarface: The Shame of the Nation (1932). In fact, this film was so well made, the 1983 remake was partially dedicated to Howard Hawks.

During the prohibition era in Chicago, Antonio “Tony” Camonte (Paul Muni) is helping mob boss Johnny Lovo (Osgood Perkins) to take control of the south side of the city. While Tony is an excellent lackey, he eventually goes against Johnny’s wishes and starts to take on the Irish gangs who control the north side of Chicago. As his success continues, Tony’s confidence rises enough to the point where he starts wooing Johnny’s girlfriend, Poppy (Karen Morley). Of course, with Tony’s out-of-control ambitions left unchecked, Johnny sends an assassin to kill him. Escaping the threat on his life, Tony and his friend Guino Rinaldo (George Raft) kill Johnny, making Tony the new leader of the mob. Unfortunately, when Tony learns Guino is with his sister, he kills his friend, setting off a series of events that has him hiding in his house and fighting the police. Will Tony live long enough to make the world his?

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 highly-praised Howard Hawks classics

#364. Damien Chazelle

It is sobering to realize how little you’ve accomplished in your life when you start to compare yourself to individuals like Damien Chazelle. While he’s only eight months older than I am, he’s already become the youngest individual to win a Best Director Oscar. Not just that, but he won with a mere two films under his belt, both of which were nominated for Best Picture. Of course, instead of bemoaning the fact that I haven’t won an Oscar for Best Director (I also haven’t graduated from Harvard, which is probably part of it), I am awaiting each successive movie directed by Chazelle. It is already clear he has a penchant for creating fantastic films, even if most of them have revolved around jazz. This week’s two films highlight the opening of Damien Chazelle’s career in filmmaking, signaling the start of a fresh vision in Hollywood.

La La LandLa La Land
Year: 2016
Rating: PG-13
Length: 128 minutes / 2.13 hours

One of the most daunting of movie genres, the musical requires much more than just acting. Choreography and music need to be seamlessly integrated into the plot of a film for the musical numbers to not seem out-of-place. It is then an impressive feat that Damien Chazelle’s second film was the musical, La La Land (2016). Even if it narrowly missed being named Best Picture for that year, it was clear Chazelle did his homework on the film, creating a colorful and loving homage to the golden age of musicals from the 1950s and 1960s. One can only wonder what a departure from music-themed movies with this year’s First Man (2018) will mean for Chazelle. The Oscars do love a good biopic, and there’s nobody more interesting than the first man to set foot on the moon: Neil Armstrong.

After a few, brief encounters, Mia Dolan (Emma Stone) and Sebastian Wilder (Ryan Gosling) have come to the realization that they’re in a love/hate acquaintanceship. This all changes when they both open up to each other and reveal their dreams. Mia has been struggling as an actress, having to resort to work at a studio coffee shop for employment, while Sebastian bemoans the state of jazz and wants to open a club where “true jazz” is played. When both of them finally admit they care for each other, they both support each other’s dream. Of course, for Mia to put on a one-woman show, Sebastian takes a job as a pianist for a band he does not consider in line with his views of jazz. After her show was poorly attended, Mia gives up on her dream, only to have Sebastian chase her down with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Will this potential success fulfill their dreams, or will it destroy their relationship?

WhiplashWhiplash
Year: 2014
Rating: R
Length: 107 minutes / 1.78 hours

If Damien Chazelle’s love of jazz wasn’t made clear in his breakout film, Whiplash (2014), then La La Land (2016) merely enforced it. Of course, you don’t get to make a big-budget Hollywood musical like La La Land without proving yourself first. Whiplash is an intense and unyielding look at competitive jazz competitions that not only revealed Chazelle’s visual style, but also his ability to create captivating characters who are driven by their ambitions. While it didn’t receive the record-tying number of Oscar nominations like La La Land did, Whiplash earned a respectable five nominations, of which Chazelle was nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay. The fact Chazelle could create a Best Picture-nominated film at age 29 is certainly as incredible as winning the Best Director Oscar two years later.

When conductor Terence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons) discovers drummer Andrew Neiman (Miles Teller) practicing in a music room at the Shaffer Conservatory, he invites the freshman to join his studio band as a backup to the lead drummer. Andrew sees this as an opportunity but soon realizes Fletcher’s style of leadership is filled with verbal and physical abuse. Despite all this, Andrew continues to practice, even going so far as to memorize entire pieces of music, which comes to his advantage when he’s put in as the lead drummer when the former lead forgot his sheet music. Meanwhile, Fletcher brings in another freshman as Andrew’s backup, leading to a brutal late-night audition between the three drummers. Andrew is soon fired from his spot, thus leading to his confession about Fletcher’s abuse, resulting in Fletcher’s firing. Fletcher thinks he has the last word, but Andrew shows his dedication in a public display of skill.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 Damien Chazelle classics

Bacon #: 3 (Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench / Anna Chazelle -> La La Land / Ryan Gosling -> Crazy, Stupid, Love. / Kevin Bacon)