Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Rating Fincher

David Fincher has garnered a fair amount of respect over the years, but especially in recent ones. He's met critical and box-office success with films like The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and The Social Network - leading to numerous high-profile award nominations. Now, with the release of his remake of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, he has nine feature films under his belt (in addition to a plethora of music video credits).

Despite my serious fondness for the film medium, I can't always see every movie and it's somewhat rare that I've seen every title in a director's filmography. However, I have been vigilant enough to catch all of Fincher's feature film work, so I thought I'd rate those nine films from my least to most favorite. I'll preface this by saying that there isn't a single Fincher film that I "dislike". There are several that I am indifferent to, some that I like well enough and a couple that I really love.

9. Panic Room (2002):

There's nothing wrong with Panic Room, I just have a hard time remembering much about it and I viewed it recent enough. I remember some decent performances and an entertaining enough story, but it's not a film that has stuck with me in any way or one that I see as possessing much of Fincher's style and presence.

8. The Game (1997):

Between his immensely popular Se7en and Fight Club, Fincher made The Game and it falls remarkably short of either. The Game is a decent enough film and I am an admitted fan of its lead - Michael Douglas - but it's somewhat predictable and not all that much to write home about.

7. Alien 3 (1992):

On the overall, I don't really think this third installment in the Alien franchise is a good film - and neither does Fincher for he's practically disowned it. However, there are a lot of good aspects to it, particularly the non-alien ones, and, at the end of the day, I pay it a lot more mind than the above-two films. Alien 3 is a disappointment when considering the success and appeal of Alien and Aliens. It's a vastly different film that fails to capture the horror that the xenomorph provided in its predecessors. But, like I said, there are positive elements to the film. Its setting, a prison-planet run by repentant religious inmates, is atmospheric and a threatening environment all its own to the stranded Ellen Ripley. The film, up until the arrival of the alien threat, is solid, but its quality quickly falls off in the 2nd half. The cast is strong, with Weaver, Dance and Dutton giving solid performances, but, for me, the film feels like a missed opportunity. I imagine Fincher feels much the same way, as reported studio tampering and creative differences are said to have left a bad taste in his mouth.

6. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (2011):

I just caught this english-language update last night and, though I appreciate Fincher's efforts, I'm left somewhat disappointed that he couldn't improve on the original more. I don't dislike the original Dragon Tattoo film, I just don't think it's anything special, nor do I believe its international-phenomenon status is warranted. The story is somewhat interesting, as are the characters, but there's too slow a build, too much exposition and document reading and not enough of a present threat to the protagonists. Fincher's version suffers from all of the same problems, though he does attempt to insert some of that lacking threat with the cat-incident. Such is the case across the board - minor improvements where major ones were necessary. The film is stylish, slick and handled better all-around with Fincher behind the camera, but it still feels overlong and uneventful. I also find it hard to believe that anyone won't see the answer to the mystery staring them straight in the face throughout the entire film considering its casting. Fincher did, however, make a solid bet in casting Mara in the lead. She knocks it out of the park.

5. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008):

I was somewhat sore when Benjamin Button received so many critical accolades in 2008, as I think there were a lot better films. But, again, it certainly wasn't a bad film. I actually remember vividly my experience watching it in a theater. At around the lengthy film's half-way point, I can remember thinking that it was one of the best films I've ever seen. I loved the story, the look, the feel and the performances. I don't think I had a single complaint - then the 2nd half of the film happened. The film's love story, between Pitt and Blanchett, just didn't strike a cord. I failed to buy their romance, which made it hard to process the intended tragedy of it. I saw much more tragedy and dramatic material in Button's personal journey, which I feel was incomplete because of the focus on Blanchett's character - who I simply did not care that much about.

4. Fight Club (1999):

I, like most people, really enjoy Fight Club. There's a lot to like about it. Norton and Pitt are at the top of their game. It's twisted, funny and often shocking. I actually don't have much bad to say about it. Having read the book as well, I'd call it one of the more successful adaptations in film history. They are much the same and my memory often confuses various elements from both, but they both can stand alone on their own merits.

3. The Social Network (2010):

This film gained a lot of critical acclaim and, in recent years, that means it comes under a fair amount of contrarian scrutiny. Sure, it wasn't the best film of 2010, but it was still pretty high in the running. It's a great, hyperbolic account of the rise of Facebook, its peculiar creator and the changing face of communication world-wide. Solidly cast, impressively acted and featuring a subtle yet appropriate score out of Trent Reznor, The Social Network also represents Fincher near his finest.

2. Se7en (1995):

Se7en was Fincher's breakout film and firm evidence of the potential that was squandered in Alien 3. There are probably films on this list that I would much rather watch for the simple reason that they're much less disturbing, but that, in itself, is a testament to its effectiveness. The serial killer depicted in the film is frighteningly perverse and represents the kind of horrific and ever-present threat that I felt Dragon Tattoo lacked. The Leland Orser/lust portion of the film has, on occasion, completely unnerved me to the point that I need to shut it off - there are few films in all of history that have this power over me. There are so many maddening details to the various disturbing elements of Se7en that paint this bleak, mysterious and un-specified setting, making it more interesting than if it took place in a real location and time. I somewhat regard Se7en as the twisted cousin of, and a great companion piece to, its 90's serial-killer film predecessor - The Silence of the Lambs. Both are dark, gritty, graphic and great.

1. Zodiac (2007):

Again with the serial-killer material? What can I say? Fincher does it really well, though Zodiac is so much more. It's an expansive, epic and highly-entertaining chronicle of the mysterious and still-yet-unsolved Zodiac Killer case that loomed over California in the 60's and 70's. Besides being tense and frightening (there's that present threat again), well-acted and frankly fascinating, Zodiac is an excellent period-film. The costumes, details and soundtrack are all first-rate in their capturing of particular eras. The final scenes of the film are especially outstanding: First - Gyllenhaal's Graysmith facing down the man he suspects to be the killer and the look he receives back and second - the final interrogation scene where one of Zodiac's survivors points to the picture of that same man, cutting to credits and the perfectly utilized "Hurdy Gurdy Man". Even though I've watched the film many many times, I still enjoy it just as much as the first time I saw it and that final cut-to-credits always gives me chills.

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