Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The Five Obstructions Blog-a-Thon #5: The Essential Films of Focus Features

For the fifth and final obstruction of Nostra’s Five Obstructions Blog-a-Thon, here’s what I’m asked to do:

Well, after participating and passing the past four obstructions. It’s time to do something just for fun. Well, with the recent news of James Schamus’ departure from the specialty films studio that he founded in Focus Features, for anyone that had seen the films that studio had put out from the summer of 2002 to what is coming for next year. There’s no question that Focus Features has made an impact for the specialty studios that would release films that a lot of studios wouldn’t put out. Schamus’ support for these films and the filmmakers who made these films is something that was needed as studios were more concerned with churning out the next blockbuster franchise.

In tribute to the studio, it’s time to reflect on the films that the studio released. Many of the stuff that Focus Features released from mid-2002 to 2013 has been solid and of course. While there have been some duds from time to time, there is no question about the quality of films the company put out which are often filled with gorgeous images and stories that are entrancing to watch.

Before we begin this list, there is one release that will not be featured in this list of 30 great films from Focus Features. That is Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation. Largely because, it’s been talked to death and I would spare my readings from hearing more and more about that film. Just go to this list and read about the film. Now, here are the 20 Essential Films from Focus Features (that isn’t Lost in Translation):

1. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Probably one of the most original and daring films of the 2000s, there is no film that really redefined the idea of what a romantic should be. From the warped minds of Michel Gondry and screenwriter Charlie Kaufman, it’s a film that plays into the idea of breaking up and wanting to get rid of memories about the love someone had. It’s very funny as well as romantic as it features Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet in their finest performances of their career and certainly one of Focus Features’ great treasures.

2. Brick

Rian Johnson’s high school-noir debut is definitely one of the most exciting debut films to come out of the studio. Especially as Focus took a risk in releasing a film that had a very stylized language as well as some intrigue that was very different from what was coming out of the time. The film also marked a period in which Joseph Gordon-Levitt was starting to break-out into becoming one of the most engaging and vital actors of the time as well as marking the emergence of a new filmmaker who would have some ideas that would shake up the film world.

3. Brokeback Mountain

The idea of a romantic-drama about two gay cowboys is something many studios wouldn’t touch nor want to release but Focus Features did that and more. Not only is it one of the studio’s crowning achievements but also one of the great films ever made. Ang Lee’s succinct direction and how he brings a sensitivity to the material is one of the highlights of the film as well as Gustavo Santoallala’s score and the performances of Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal.

4. Somewhere

Sofia Coppola’s fourth feature film and her second release from the studio is definitely one of the most polarizing films of the past few years. Largely as it’s a very minimalist film that doesn’t have much of a plot as it explores a Hollywood movie star’s dreary life as he is forced to take care of his 11-year old daughter where he finds himself thinking about his life. It’s a film that has not just many of Coppola’s gorgeous imagery but also in the way she presents a story with so much beauty and simplicity as it didn’t need to embellish or play into convention making it a favorite for some of her fans.

5. 21 Grams

The second part of Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s Death Trilogy, the film is definitely one of the most gritty and intoxicating films of the Focus Features library. In its exploration of grief, it’s a very complex and multi-layered film that plays into the lives of three people who are connected by tragedy and redemption. Armed with Rodrigo Prieto’s grimy yet beautiful cinematography and Guillermo Arriaga’s very unconventional plotting in his screenplay. The film is definitely a hallmark of Inarritu’s work.

6. Pride & Prejudice

Any film studio or specialty studio would want to release a new version of a Jane Austen adaptation but Focus Features was able to do that and keep it true to the period and the story. Especially as director Joe Wright would create some intoxicating images in the film as well as play into the world of romance and a woman trying to find her own destiny as it features Keira Knightley in her best performance of her career as well as solid supporting work from Matthew McFayden, Rosamund Pike, Brenda Blethyn, Judi Dench, Tom Hollander, Jena Malone, Carey Mulligan, and Donald Sutherland. While it’s largely a British release, the fact that Focus put it out in the U.S. just helped make it a big success.

7. Milk

Gus Van Sant’s bio-pic about Harvey Milk isn’t just one of his crowning achievements but also a film that solidified Focus Features’ status as one of the most important specialty films studios. Through the winning performance of Sean Penn as well as the supporting work of James Franco and Emile Hirsch, it’s a film that celebrates Milk’s campaign for gay rights as well as giving voice to them. It’s a film that only Focus would release that is willing to push the envelope about what kind of films the company would make.

8. The Pianist

One of the studio’s first major releases after the merger between USA Films, Good Machine, October, and Gramercy, the film isn’t just a major comeback film for Roman Polanski but also the film that would help Focus Features become the kind of studio that would release quality films that would win Oscars as it won three for its screenplay, Polanski’s direction, and Adrien Brody’s performance. Yet, it’s a very captivating film that plays into a man trying to survive the Holocaust in the Polish ghettos during World War II.

9. Far from Heaven

Another film from the studio that garnered lots of accolades and critical attention, Todd Haynes’ stylish melodrama set in the late 1950s/early 1960s. While it’s an ode to the works of Douglas Sirk, Haynes adds a lot of unique imagery through Edward Lackman’s lush cinematography as well as top-notch performances from Julianne Moore, Dennis Quaid, Dennis Haysbert, and Patricia Clarkson. It’s definitely a film that just adds to the reputation of the studio in terms of not just the kind of films they would release but also in how beautiful they are.

10. Thirst

Chan-wook Park’s stylish vampire film may not be a typical release from the studio but it is certainly a film that makes the studio standout from the rest. Largely as it’s very violent and also extremely off the wall in terms of imagery. At the same time, it actually gives some bite and depth in an age where vampires were becoming romantic and defanged. It’s a film that could’ve been released into some lame horror label but Focus saw something in this film and was able to realize there’s a whole lot more to this film than just a vampire film.

11. Atonement

Joe Wright’s sophomore feature is truly a majestic feature that explores the world of how one young girl’s lie can ruin the life of two lovers. From that amazing tracking shot of the scene in Dunkirk to the gorgeous imagery that Wright conveys in the romance and tragedy. The film is definitely another of the studio’s top features.

12. A Serious Man

The Coen Brothers’ modern-day take on the story of Job set in the late 1960s is often regarded as one of their more underrated works. Largely as it doesn’t feature many of their regular company of actors while the humor is restrained in favor of exploring a man dealing with a marriage that is dissolving and all sorts of things. Yet, it remains a very fascinating film about a period in time where things are changing as a man deal with the changes as well as his idea on faith.

13. Eastern Promises

David Cronenberg’s 2007 mob-drama is definitely one of his finest films as well as one of his most violent. In his second collaboration with Viggo Mortensen, Cronenberg creates a very stylish yet gritty film that features one of the most unforgettable fight scenes ever created while infusing the film with drama where a nurse tries to save a baby from the mob with the help of Mortensen.

14. The Motorcycle Diaries

Walter Salles’ dramatic film about a young Che Guevara’s journey through South America in the early 1950s with his friend Alberto Granado is certainly a very mesmerizing tale of friendship and a man’s journey to find meaning in his life. With Gael Garcia Bernal as the young Che Guevara, it’s a film that captures not just a world in South America that was changing but also a place that would force Guevara to fight against the injustice that he sees as he would later transform into a more militant figure.

15. The Place Beyond the Pines

Derek Cianfrance’s third film about fathers and the sins they would put upon their sons is a very multi-layered and entrancing film that spans into two different generations. Armed with great performances from Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper, and Eva Mendes as well as Mike Patton’s enchanting score. It’s a film that is very gritty but also captivating in how two different men whose path cross as they would unknowingly pave the way for their sins to reach their sons.

16. Jane Eyre

Cary Joji Fukunaga’s adaptation of Charlotte Bronte’s Gothic novel is truly one of the most gorgeous yet enchanting adaptations of the film. Thanks to his restrained yet evocative direction and the leading performances of Mia Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender. The film manages to be something more than just an adaptation of a revered book but also a very captivating yet touching drama.

17. Moonrise Kingdom

Wes Anderson’s tale of two runaway children going on a famed trail while adults try to find them is definitely one of the director’s best work. Notably as the relationship between Anderson and Focus Features is a perfect match as he brings him the visually-brilliant films that have quality and they can release his films knowing that it will get an audience no matter how small it is.

18. The World's End

The most recent film in this list certainly adds to Focus Features’ reputation of supporting great filmmakers and their films. Even as someone like Edgar Wright who is a comedy filmmaker that likes to showcase different takes on genres while infusing it with lots of pop culture references. Still, it’s a film that proves to be very entertaining as well as a fitting end to the Three Cornetto Flavour Trilogy that were preceded by Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz.

19. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Tomas Alfredson’s adaptation of John Le Carre’s novel is definitely one of the most compelling films from the studio where it is led by Gary Oldman’s tremendous performance. Notably as Oldman plays a MI6 officer trying to find a mole as it features some beautiful images as well as a top-notch cast of actors that include Colin Firth, John Hurt, Mark Strong, Toby Jones, Benedict Cumberbatch, Ciaran Hinds, and Tom Hardy.

20. My Summer of Love

Pawel Pawlikowski’s adaptation of Helen Cross’ lesbian-romance novel is definitely one of the best films to come out of Britain as it would introduce American audiences to Emily Blunt as a rich young girl who falls for a troubled middle-class girl. With its gorgeous visuals and an entrancing score by Goldfrapp. It is truly one of the great gems to come out of Focus Features.

And here’s 20 more films from Focus Features that I think are essential to its library:

21. Swimming Pool

22. In Bruges

23. Lust, Caution

24. Pariah

25. Broken Flowers

26. Greenberg

27. The American

28. Talk to Me

29. The Constant Gardener

30. Beginners

31. 8 Women

32. Hanna

33. The Shape of Things

34. Sylvia

35. The Kid Stays in the Picture

36. Dan in Real Life

37. Coraline

38. The Limits of Control

39. Hollywoodland

40. Hamlet 2

Well, that is all for Focus Features and the Five Obstructions blog-a-thon. Thank you for reading.

© thevoid99 2013


Fisti said...

Great post! I still have no clue what I'm going to write about!!!

Chris said...

Great list! Focus Features have released some fine films the last few years. Of those, I especially love Lost in Translation, and The Place Beyond the Pines.
Many of the other titles would be in my top 20 of each year.

thevoid99 said...

@Fisti-Just think of the first thing that comes to your mind. This was the 2nd idea I had as I wanted to make another list but another blogger ended up having the same idea and did it anyways where his list was pretty much perfect.

@Chris-That's what I love about Focus Features. I don't know what's going to happen w/ the new boss they're having as I'm definitely not looking forward to Fifty Shades of Grey.