David Fincher began his directorial career making music videos for some of the biggest talents in pop music. Beginning with Alien³ in 1992, his work in features has combined a drive for technical achievement off-screen with a consistently recognizable interest in detail-oriented obsession on-screen. He is a consummate craftsman, but one with an uncanny ability to lay his finger right on the cultural pulse. Together, those talents result in films which have gone beyond reflecting cultural attitudes, to defining them.
With the release of his latest film, Gone Girl, we’ve taken the opportunity to revisit the director’s narrative works on film. (And, briefly, in television.) Below is a list of the films of David Fincher ranked by achievement. It’s a highly subjective effort, we realize. Where does Gone Girl fit in alongside Fight Club, Se7en, The Social Network, and Zodiac? What stands out as the best film in his career to date, and what virtues can we find even in his least successful efforts? As you’d expect with Fincher, the answer to that last question is a lot more detailed than it would be for many other filmmakers. Compare our list with your own after reading further.
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Daniel Silva has edited a 17-minute tribute to filmmaker David Fincher, artfully splicing together the director’s nine feature films including Se7en, The Game, Fight Club, Panic Room, Zodiac, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Social Network and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. This video tribute does not include Fincher’s Alien 3 (because, you know why), his 1985 documentary The Beat of the Live Drum (probably because it isnt a narrative feature film) or his upcoming film Gone Girl. The edit is not just a music video like most of the tribute videos you see these days, including lengthy bits of scenes. That said, the short does include “Closer” by Nine Inch Nails and “Oraculum” by Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross. Watch Daniel Silva’s The Films of David Fincher now embedded after the jump.
You might not know the name Harris Savides, but you know his work as a cinematographer. An award-winning stretch of music videos, including R.E.M.’s ‘Everybody Hurts’ and Nine Inch Nails’ ‘Closer,’ led to an impressive his feature film debut, David Fincher‘s The Game, in 1997.
What followed was a long stretch of films with Gus Van Sant (Finding Forrester, Gerry, Elephant, Last Days, Milk) and feature work with directors such as Ridley Scott, Sofia Coppola, and Noah Baumbach, during which Savides mastered a distinctive style that defined a wonderful mid-point between realism and pure cinema. His twin recreations of ’70s San Francisco (in Zodiac and Milk) could be the new standard for integrating practical and digital effects to create a compelling recreation of a period location. Savides did some of the best digital work in the early days of the format, and was one of the cinematographers whose style could flow from film to digital with apparent ease.
Now we’ve learned that Savides died today at the age of 55. The cause of death is not widely reported, but there are hints of a serious illness faced by the cinematographer in the last few years. His last film work will be seen in Sofia Coppola’s next film, The Bling Ring. Read More »
It’s a crazy, mixed up world and we are thankful for movies, excluding The Spy Next Door and The Tooth Fairy, that offer proof. /Film’s Weekend Weirdness examines such flicks, whether in the form of a new trailer for a provocative indie, a mini review, or an interview. In this installment, new trailers and a review of the Red Riding Trilogy, a noirish triptych of serial killer dramas imported from British television and being released stateside in February by IFC Films.
During a screening of the entire Red Riding Trilogy, with one intermission allotted for lunch, I found myself pondering the irony in three directors, one screenwriter, one author, tens of actors and three separate crews realizing a project that depicts humanity and bureaucracy at its most foul and irreversibly corrupt. A recent poster for the trilogy forebodingly reads, “Evil Lives Here,” a tagline that would serve most of the work that exits Stephen King’s skull; instead the “here” in Red Riding is Northern England in the ’70s and early ’80s, when a serial killer known as the Yorkshire Ripper carved a trail of female victims and set a mood and mythos ripe for social reflection.
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Last month, I had another chance to sit down and talk with Darren Aronofsky, the director of Pi, Requiem for a Dream, and The Fountain, about his new film The Wrestler. We’re going to call this part five because it continues the series of interviews regarding The Wrestler that began at the Toronto International Film Festival (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3). You can read the fourth part, which was on the site yesterday, at this link. In the fifth and final part of our Wrestler series, I talk to Aronofsky about 3D, IMAX, High Definition filmmaking, The Fighter, Robocop, Watchmen, hopes for a 5.1 audio remix of Pi and more.
Q: The crumbling ballroom, when and how did you find that place?
Darren Aronofsky: We were scouting Asbury Park. I was like Evan Rachel Wood in the movie. I looked through the crack. I said, “What the hell’s that space?” I could see it through the crack. I was, “Let’s get in there.” We actually never scouted it until we actually shot it. We didn’t have that type of budget. I saw it and was like, “Get me permission to get in there. That’s the location. Let’s get in there.” On the day of we had permission to go in. I think actually Bruce [Springsteen] might own it. I think he’s bought up, through a corporation, a lot of Asbury Park and they’re redoing it. I don’t know. I’m not sure. You may have to fact check that. That’s what I’ve heard. It’s an old casino. It says casino on the outside. I don’t know if it was a gambling casino or what it was, but it’s just this beautiful space.
Q: It looks like a ballroom.
Darren Aronofsky: Yes. That’s why we improvised the dance. I walked in there and I said, “Mickey, are you going to ask Evan to dance?” Mickey doesn’t like to dance. I was like, “Are you going to waltz? You’re going to waltz. You’re going to waltz here.” He’s like, “I can’t waltz.” I’m like, “I’ll teach you how to waltz.” So there’s a video of me teaching Mickey how to waltz, which is a pretty embarrassing video. I said, “Let’s just give it a shot and see what happens.” I wanted something. It was very much like that scene in Requiem when they break into the building and they go to the roof and they set off the alarm and all that stuff. In the script it was actually, I think it was a snowball fight they had, something silly. I think originally in The Wrestler script they were going to go play skee-ball. Then we realized Asbury Park doesn’t have skee-ball. Then we turned it into a snowball fight. Then it didn’t snow. I was like, “Okay, they need to do something that’s kind of silly and endearing.” That night we saw that space and I said, “All right. They’ll just break in here and do something illegal and then do something touching.” I remember afterwards, Evan walked away and she was sobbing. She had some personal connection with her own life, which is her story to tell. But she really resisted at the beginning. But then afterwards really was glad that she did it. Those things happen.
Q: It seems like much of the process of making this film was you making Mickey do things that he doesn’t want to do and laughing about it.
Darren Aronofsky: There’s a certain amount of that. Mickey is definitely a coaster. He’ll put his feet up on the table and just sort of– He’s like that kid in high school who did no work and got B+’s the whole time, because he’s got so much talent that he’s able to do it. Yes, it was pushing Mickey a lot. My biggest accomplishment on the film was that he wears no sunglasses in the entire movie. Every day Mickey showed up with a pair of sunglasses and it was about convincing him that they don’t want to see the sunglasses. “Mickey, people want to look at your eyes. That’s why they’re paying money. That’s why they’re here.” He knows that. He’s so much armor and he’s so soft inside. Did you meet him yet?
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Posted on Saturday, August 30th, 2008 by David Chen
WARNING: This post (and potentially its title) contain MAJOR spoilers for David Fincher’s film, “Zodiac.”
Hot off the heels of Peter’s experience with a David Fincher tribute and his disappointing viewing of 20 minutes from Benjamin Button comes word that the storyline from Fincher’s last opus, Zodiac, may finally be reaching a resolution. According to CBS13 in Sacramento, the FBI is now running lab tests on the belongings of a man named Jack Tarrance, who died in 2006. Tarrance’s stepson, Dennis Kaufman, has spent eight years trying to prove that Tarrance was the Zodiac killer.
For those that don’t remember the film Zodiac, it chronicled the attempts of San Francisco Chronicle employees Paul Avery (Robert Downey Jr.) and Robert Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhaal), in addition to detective Dave Toschi (Mark Ruffalo), to find the identity of a serial killer who brutally murdered several people in Northern California during the late 1960s. The killer sent letters to the Chronicle in the form of strange ciphers and codes, hence the Zodiac moniker. One of the main suspects of the film, Arthur Leigh Allen (who died in 1992) was positively identified in a mugshot by a Zodiac murder victim during the film’s closing scene. However, other elements implicating Allen never added up and the case has remained one of the country’s most infamous unsolved murders.
Perhaps no more. While going through his late stepfather’s belongings, Kaufman discovered a number of incriminating items, including a knife covered with what could be blood, a black hood with a zodiac on it (which conceivably could have been used in the 1968 Lake Berryessa murder) as well as rolls of film, at least one of which contained gruesome images that “[a]ppeared to be people who were murdered,” according to Kaufman.
Kaufman also believes that Tarrance’s handwriting and photo match the handwriting and composite sketch of the Zodiac killer. I’ve embedded the handwriting comparison and the headshot comparison in this post, but for the full write-up and some more photos, head on over to CBS13. According to the FBI, they could get the results of their tests any day. We’ll report more updates as they become available.
Last night the Telluride Film Festival held a tribute for director David Fincher. After an introduction by festival sponsor documentary filmmaker Ken Burns, and a package of clips spanning Fincher’s career from Music videos, commercials, to Se7en, The Game, Fight Club, Panic Room and Zodiac, Variety’s Todd McCarthy took the stage to do a 1:1 interview with the director. Here are some highlights from that conversation:
Fincher admitted that much of his early years discovering cinema consisted of Thrillers and scary movies. His favorites included Jaws, I Saw What You Did, and Rear Window.
When asked why he creates a lot of films under morbid ideas, Fincher said that he makes whatever scripts that interest him. Plus, “They haven’t offered a lot of romantic comedies,” he joked.
Fincher remembers the exact moment when he realized that he wanted to make movies for a living. He was eight years old, probably cutting school, when he came across a documentary on the making of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Fincher said that before that documentary, it had never occurred to him that movies weren’t made in real time, and he came away amazed at all the work that was involved behind the scenes. After watching the doc, he got into his father’ car and said “I want to make movies.”
McCarthy asked if Fincher would every make a western. “There’s animals in westerns right?” Fincher joked, before answering probably not.
Growing up in Marin County, George Lucas was his neighbor. American Graffiti was shot on the street near his house, and Fincher watched them film some scenes off to the side. Other films that came through his neighborhood included Godfather and Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Most of Fincher’s friends had their heads shaved to be in Lucas’ THX-1138. His roommate, who was working at Lucasfilm painting matte paintings, recommended Fincher for a job. Fincher was hired to load cameras on what was then titled Star Wars: Revenge of the Jedi. He worked a bunch of other productions which included Steven Spielberg’s Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.
“It was great film school,” said Fincher. “You could spend $30,000 on film school, then spend another $30,000 on your films. I wanted to work on Star Wars movies.”
But he eventually left to do television commercials. However, he quickly found out that no one would hire a young guy like him to direct commercials. Thankfully a thing called MTV came along, and music videos were a thing that he had made all through his high school years. He actually admitted that aside from a couple commercials, he didn’t make a narrative film until his first Hollywood feature.
On who he enjoyed working with over his music video career, Fincher said that “the most famous people are usually very good at what they are.” Fincher said that with the music videos he always tried to have fun while making them. “They’re like making toilet paper, here today gone tomorrow… so lets have fun making em.”
He recalls a piece of advice from Joel Schumacher, who early into his feature career told him that he was giving the movie studios too much power. Joel taught him that he should be ready, everyday, to walk off a project, to quit, in order to fight for the vision he believes in.
When he got the script for Se7en, he told Mike Deluca that he needed to work on it some more before going into production. Duluca told Fincher “If we give anyone the time to realize the kind of movie we want to make for $30 million, they won’t want to make it.” So with that Fincher rushed Se7en into production.
On the controversy behind Fight Club: “I always though of it as ridiculous,” Fincher said about the plot of the book. “So I never got what everyone was upset about. But I’m an Asshole,” Fincher concluded, who admitted that he was laughing out loud while he read the book the film was based on.
About making movies in San Francisco: “It’s too hard to make films in San Francisco. It’s like making films in Paris. Paris looks beautiful because film crews didn’t have the chance to mess it up.” He said that when he made Zodiac, San Francisco wanted him to film in the city, but as is very typical of the city, they weren’t willing to accommodate any changes (I think Fincher joked that a SF official said to him “You can’t turn that street light out”) which lead him back to filming in-front of green screens on a sound stage.
Fincher’s favorite San Francisco films include: Vertigo, Bullet and Dirty Hairy, even though Fincher admits that film could have taken place in any city.
When asked about how he usually makes films with multiple layers and long running times, Fincher admitted “I have a problem with keeping things simple.”
Talking about Robert Downey Jr.’s recent fame, Fincher said “I think it’s great that Marvel comes in and eats Hollywood’s lunch.” When a friend of his told him the news that Downey had been cast as Iron Man, Fincher said “That’s genius.”
On working with Robert, Fincher said “There are actors who are worth taking everyone’s time and energy from moving on.” And Robert is one of them. If he has an idea, you need to get in on film, no matter how many takes.
He first got to read the script for Benjamin Button eight years ago. The screenplay was incredible but it required the audience to have a love and knowledge of Jazz. The project didn’t get made for years, and then one day Fincher received a call from his friend Spike Jonze who had good news, he was going to direct Ben Button. “Great! Fuck You!” Fincher said in reply. Jonze apparently quit because he had a specific vision and the studio wanted to go to writer Eric Roth to redraft the script. So Fincher was asked to come in and do a pitch to Paramount, but he refused, even though he wanted the project. The studio went to another director, but that didn’t work out. Roth called Fincher and begged him to come into Paramount and do his “tap dance” for the studio. He came in and explained his vision. They wanted test footage, so Fincher produced footage of Ben Button using the aging effects. The studio decided that the film would cost too much money and it fell into development heck That is until Brad Grey took over Paramount and asked “do we have any Brad Pitt projects laying around?” Fincher described the film as about the “dents people make in your life.”
They then screened 20 minutes of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Most of the people I talked to following the screening were underwhelmed or disappointed. You can read my first impressions of the footage in my previous posting.
In July, we told you that David Fincher would be releasing a Zodiac directors cut on DVD in 2008. The 2-Disc collectors edition would presumably feature a longer cut than the already lengthy 158 minute theatrical cut. Jeff Wells is now reporting that the director’s cut has been screened at close to 180-minutes, which is 22-25 minutes longer than the big screen version (depending on what number you believe). Wells says that one publicist was raving about the longer cut.
However, DVD Lounge is reporting that the Director Cut DVD will only be a mere five minutes longer than the theatrical cut. I’m not sure this could possibly be true, especially considering a longer cut of the film exists.
But how many people are going to plop down the cash and sit on the couch for a three hour cut of this film? Zodiac was one of my favorite films of 2007 so far, so I’m excited to see a longer cut.
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Rotten Tomatoes have published their Mid-Year Report, which features a list of the best and worst reviewed movies of the first six months of 2007. You can see the top ten of each below.
Best Reviewed Movies
2. “Away From Her”
4. “Knocked Up”
5. “Hot Fuzz”
7. “The Host”
10. “The Lookout”
Worst Reviewed Movies
1. “Because I Said So”
2. “The Number 23”
4. “The Reaping”
6. “Perfect Stranger”
7. “Happily N’Ever After”
8. “Are We Done Yet? ”
9. “Code Name: The Cleaner”
10. “Hannibal Rising”
Not many surprises to be found. Ratatouille has wrestled the best reviewed wide release of 2007 title away from Knocked Up, which is still holding strong at #4.One unusual observation is that the best movies list features a lot of comedy/romantic comedy films (Ratatouille, Once, Knocked Up, Hot Fuzz, Waitress). In the past usually dramatic indie flicks have dominated the list. I’m also glad to see Zodiac as I’ve fielded negative comments about the film from most people I have spoken with. David Fincher’s film is one of my favorites of the year thus far.
Because I Said So and The Number 23 are the film’s I’ve least enjoyed this year so far. So I feel a little vindicated seeing them rank at the top of the worst reviewed films list. I am actually surprised to see Hannibal Rising make the worst list at #10. I didn’t enjoy the film, but at the same time, I didn’t hate it either. I wonder if there is a huge backlash on the film purely based on it’s comparison against Silence of the Lambs?
Zodiac will hit DVD store shelves on July 24th, but you might want to consider holding off on that purchase. Aside from the fact that the studio is releasing the film bare-bones (aka next to no extra features), there is now something new to consider. Apparently David Fincher’s Zodiac: 2-Disc Director’s Cut will be arriving in 2008.
And of course, this new release will be packed with special features missing from the single disc version, including an audio commentary by David Fincher, actors Jake Gyllenhaal and Robert Downey, Jr., screenwriter James Vanderbilt, producer Brad Fischer and crime novelist James Ellroy, extensive behind-the-scenes featurettes detailing the production from start to finish, and an in-depth look at the actual Zodiac crimes, including all-new interviews with the original investigators and survivors. Looks like I’ll be holding off for the directors cut.
I wonder, how much longer could Fincher’s directors cut be? I was one of the few people that really fell in love with this film, but a lot of people have complained that the film is too long and that Fincher was given too much room to “do his own thing”. And I imagine that this won’t just be the same movie with all the deleted scenes now included as they usually bill a release of that kind as a “Extended Cut”. But they are calling this a “directors cut”, which must mean that the 158 minute theatrical cut was actually a shorter movie than Fincher envisioned, and was probably the result of studio tinkering.
And we also must remember that a director’s cut is not always longer than the theatrical version of a film. Oliver Stone released Alexander a couple years ago on DVD in a director’s cut which was 8 minutes shorter than the theatrical version (Stone had excised approximately 17 minutes from the old version and reinstated 9 minutes of new footage). Although, this is not usually the case.
Contributing Sources: FilmIck, DavisDVD.