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An Entirely Superficial Ranking of Movies I Want to See But Haven’t

This was written by a writer outside of The Stampede, Gail Parambi

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An Entirely Superficial Ranking of Movies I Want to See But Haven’t

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Gail Parambi

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Here’s a secret: If you typed the letter ‘R’ into my Safari search bar during my freshman year, you would have been redirected to rogerebert.com, the site where the famed Chicago Sun-Times movie critic aggregated all of his reviews. Since Ebert’s death, the site has been managed by his wife, Chaz, with contributions from many other esteemed movie critics. It keeps up with all sorts of movies, from the prestige to the plain.

Here’s another not-secret: I like pretty colors. I like shiny, glittery, things; thus, prestige films, with their glorious cinematography and shot construction, hold immense appeal for me.

Here’s the last secret: I don’t watch too many fancy movies.

Prestige films are, more often than not, intense ruminations on dark themes like the nature of humanity or oppression through the ages or coming-of-age but the main character is a Russian religious fanatic. I like these kinds of books. I’m sure I’d like these kinds of movies. I just can’t bring myself to start them.

It’s like the activation energy is too high. I look at these movies, and I think that it would take an insane amount of effort to watch them—whether that’s because they’re only screened in limited release, or because even the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences doesn’t know what they’re about (looking at you, Dunkirk), or because they’re in another language entirely. So browsing rogerebert.com is like looking in the window of a Balenciaga store—looking, from the outside, at gorgeous clothing that is both incomprehensible and inaccessible.

Over the years I’ve browsed that website, I’ve garnered a pretty sizeable list of movies I, theoretically, would like to watch at some point in the future. Here I’ll be ranking four of them based on a few criteria: 1) perceived prestige, on a scale from one to ten, using my confusion at a Wikipedia-level summary of plot and recognition of names; 2) accessibility, including availability in theaters and on streaming services like Netflix and Amazon as well as language of origin; higher accessibility is actually detrimental to a movie’s ranking (and thus will be subtracted from the total score), because there’s no way a movie accessible to the masses could ever be of sufficient quality to satisfy my demand for poetry; 3) artsiness, on a scale from one to ten, based on my subjective interest in a movie based on the first ten screencaptures I see when I pull up a Google Images search of the movie; and 4), bonus points, as awarded based on recognition by SXSW, Cannes, Sundance, Toronto International, and so on so forth. This section is also where I may award bonus for interesting tidbits, such as recognizing the media on which a movie is based and cult status.

I will not be using ‘potential interest’ as a criterion for any of this because ‘interest’ is not a valid judgment for any of these. I am a 16-year-old high school student who likes big-budget action movies with lots of CGI and rap soundtracks. Clearly I am not in any position to judge an art film as ‘interesting’. From my point of view, the goal of these films is not to be interesting but to be thematically rich and thought-provoking.

Burning (2018), dir. Lee Chang-Dong

From what I’ve gathered, Burning is your traditional Haruki Murakami literary fiction narrative about a guy, a girl, and some cataclysmic and inexplicable event that separates the two of them (I’m getting Paper Towns if John Green believed himself to be Herman Hesse’s modern equivalent). The main show is supposed to be the characters, who are, according to myriad reviews, complex, well developed, and well acted. I wouldn’t know, obviously.

>Perceived Prestige (PP): 6

  >Though certainly not something I would generally spend my Friday night watching, Burning clocks in at a tepid 6 on the PP scale because of the many reviews on multifarious outlets I’ve seen. Generally speaking, the more limited a movie is to the film-specific corners of the internet, the more inclined I am to give it a higher score.

>Accessibility: 3

  >As a Korean-language movie playing in limited release in the U.S., Burning has a leg up on its competitors in the obscurity department. Lee Chang-Dong’s movies have, however, been released in the United States post-theatrical run on Amazon, Google Play, and Youtube for rental, a state which I predict will be similar for Burning once it has finished its time on the big screen.

>Artsiness: 7.5

  >Burning uses unsaturated warm tones in gorgeous ways. One of the featured shots is of actor Yoo Ah-In staring listlessly into the setting sun, framed by the cubic geometries of Korean cityscape. Another is a motion shot of the same actor, backlit and surrounded by the dry greens and browns of his farming community. What I’m getting at here is that light, in this movie, is never never subtle in its presence or absence.

>Bonus Points: 4

  >I awarded Burning points for: its selection for competition for the Palme d’Or at Cannes, its reception of a FIPRESCI Award at Cannes, and its nomination for a Best Foreign Language Film Oscar. Its final bonus point came from my recognition of the creator of its base work, Haruki Murakami, an author who is sufficiently pretentious that I may award a point for name recognition alone and not quality of work (again, I have no clue if “Barn Burning”, the story this movie is based on, is any good).

>Final Score: 14.5

 

Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters (1985), dir. Paul Schrader

Mishima is a quasi-biographical film directed by the writer of Taxi Driver (another never-seen) centering on Yukio Mishima, a Japanese author whose life was eventful, to say the least. Mishima’s Wikipedia biography reads like the synopsis of a novel. The film uses artsy storytelling techniques to explore Mishima’s somewhat troubled mind.

>Perceived Prestige (PP): 8

Mishima’s name lends this movie much credence. I’ve read only one of his many deeply philosophical works, The Temple of the Golden Pavilion, a novel that was so deep and philosophical that I probably emerged from that reading with a 15% grasp, maximum, on the true depth and philosophy presented within. Paul Schrader’s credentials don’t hurt, either.

>Accessibility: 4

An English-language movie, this film loses additional points for its rental availability on both Amazon and iTunes.

>Artsiness: 8

Each segment of the story is supposedly given its own color palette. The frames look like they came from the lovechild of The Matrix and The Grand Budapest Hotel. Whoever did the colors also wasn’t afraid to use green, which pleases me endlessly.

>Bonus Points: 6

Let’s take a scan through this movie’s credits: George Lucas and film titan Francis Ford Coppola on production, Philip Glass with an iconic soundtrack, Paul Schrader delivering what he considers his best work. A Cannes award for Artistry. Six points is stingy.

>Final Score: 18

 

>The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017) dir. Yorgos Lanthanimos

This is the film about which I know the least, which intrigues me all the more. The Internet tells me that it’s about a surgeon who makes a friend and tries to introduce that friend to his family, after which point his family begins to fall mysteriously ill.

>Perceived Prestige (PP): 9

This film has a deeply metaphorical premise that incorporates one of my major weaknesses in pretentious media: interpretation of Hellenic literature, specifically the myth of Iphigenia (I’ve never read it). This alone makes it [kisses fingers like an Italian chef] close to perfecto in my eyes.

>Accessibility: 5

It’s English-language, with well-known actors, and it’s available for rental on three platforms. Altogether too accessible for a film of its degree.

>Artsiness: 10

The integration of Greek mythology, the rich symbolism, the sweeping setpieces and desaturated cool tones all contribute to the coveted perfect score. At times the bright light trapped behind curtains, attempting to stream into the dull reflectivity of the hospital, invokes the precarious line between death and life that the medical profession often walks.

>Bonus Points: 6

Sacred Deer received an award at Cannes for writing and was nominated for the Palme d’Or. Despite never having seen a single film of his, Yorgos Lanthanimos is one of my favorite directors. It’s got Colin Farrell and Nicole Kidman in it. Iphigenia. The film was released in the United States by A24, which produces films like Moonlight, The Florida Project, and Lean on Pete. At this point I’m just coming up with excuses to give this movie more points because it’s the movie I am both least likely to see and the movie I have the greatest desire to see so I feel like if I give it the top spot on this list then that’ll make up for my lack of consumption of artistic media.

>Final Score: 20

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An Entirely Superficial Ranking of Movies I Want to See But Haven’t