|UserReviews 4Approval 94%Soundoffs 55Album Ratings 2198Objectivity 93%Last Active 12-19-19 2:55 pmJoined 09-24-05Forum Posts 22Review Comments 3,649
|FILM: tectac's Gus Van Sant, Ranked|
Van Sant's filmography has always fascinated me: The man rarely makes a middle-of-the-road picture. It seems he either crafts bold arthouse masterpieces, or reductive, inane bullshit. There are only a couple films I'd confidently claim ambivalence toward; I tend to either find them great and ruminative, or terrible and mawkish. But such is the risk/reward balance encountered when making movies for yourself and not giving much of a fuck what the audience will think: An approach to filmmaking that I can wholly understand and get behind. Even if it means sitting through a fair share of turds.
>> EVEN COWGIRLS GET THE BLUES (1993)
What—and I cannot stress this enough—the fuck. So conceptually insipid that it physically gave me a headache, and, while patently ridiculous, it never uses said ridiculousness to any significant effect other than a few throwaway cosmetic jokes (that aren’t funny). Politics of the film are aggressively blunt and, in many cases, dated. A lukewarm cauldron of under-bakes sociological half-thoughts and glib metaphors for feminism (e.g. Sissy’s surgical thumb removal, Jesus Christ in my opinion). Bad films blatantly allude to supposed problems, issues, or ideas, and then fail to properly address them. Worse films - like this one - don’t even bother trying. Spiritless performances and uninspired photography from Van Sant mean any potential ‘cinematic benefits’ you might get from this miserable adaptation are nonexistent. I seriously wonder if Van Sant was at least partially conscious of the tower of antithetical enjoyment he was creating. Abysmal.
>> RESTLESS (2011)
Should have been called RELENTLESSLY TWEE. Nothing could’ve adequately prepped me for the bombardment of bathos that awaited. I should’ve known: The cover alone is the exact type of portentously-indie emblem that would foretell such nauseating schmaltz, and the opening few sequences all but confirm that notion. Operates as a significantly weaker rendition of HAROLD AND MAUDE, substituting a younger, terminal cancer patient for the end-of-life gammer. All that means is now you’ve got the hoary romantic angle constantly butting its head into things, slathering on yet another layer of forceful, heart-rending sentimentality. The Manic Pixie Dream Girl aspect is too obvious and tirelessly pokey, and neither one of our dough-eyed protags seems to find their situation even a little bit troublesome while it’s happening. That’s not my idea of ironic drama. Almost forgot about the kamikaze pilot ghost, too, which is somehow not the most egregious device exploited here.
Crack the Skye
>> ELEPHANT (2003)
This is probably a “better” film than my list would suggest, but I find it repulsive for the same reason I hate Villeneuve’s POLYTECHNIQUE: A harvesting of suspense and tension where the climax—i.e., a morbid reenactment of a real-life tragedy, the massacre of several innocent kids and adults—is constantly tantalized and prolonged as some sort of cheap, disgusting payoff. I sense that Van Sant’s intentions were reverent, not malicious, but teasing something so horrific with *gun cocking noise* following by an immediate jump back in time is repugnant to me. Would’ve benefited from a more probing angle, but the psychoanalytics are lamely superficial and undercooked: Gus mechanically cycles through bullying, violent games, internet influence, and Nazi propaganda as though he were blithely checking off a list. Nothing feels palpable. Worst offenders might be the cliquey girls who purge themselves in synchronization, playing like another insensitive joke. Just bleh.
The Wild, the Innocent, and the E Street Shuffle
>> PSYCHO (1998)
My left brain understands there’s no reason for this film to exist. It’s not merely a “remake”, it is a literal shot-for-shot transpose of Hitchcock’s 1960 classic—matching exact dissolves and scene transitions to a T—so you’re not even getting a contemporary artist’s idiosyncrasies filtered through familiar material. It’s the same film with less competent actors and color (which only affects one scene). All the unprecedented accolades are negated because they’d already been done 38 years prior. But my right brain is begging the theoretical: If we can somehow forget that Hitchcock’s superior original exists, does this PSYCHO (1998) become “good”? Tough question, because one can never truly block out something they already know. But under that pretense, I’m not sure anyone could claim this to be an awful film. Unfortunately for Van Sant, PSYCHO (1960) does exist, and his remake’s utility only extends as far as these silly hypothetical questions it stirs up i.e., “Why?”
The Colour of Spring
>> FINDING FORRESTER (2000)
Q: What would you get if you took GOOD WILL HUNTING, cross-bred the narrative with HOOP DREAMS, amped up the racial suppression, diluted the script, and subbed-in a bunch of less convincing actors? A: Well, you’d get this mediocre excuse for melodramatic social commentary and follow-your-dreams optimism, that’s what. At one point, after Jamal rebuffs Paquin’s intimacy after her father makes clear his disapproval - supposedly due to his race - she says to him, “Why does everything have to be so black and white with you?” in a wholly non-ironic tone. Ugh. Mediocrity at its most mediocre, even Abraham’s typically transformative skills can’t mask the rote conventionality his villainous principal is written with. Busta Rhymes is an unexpected bright spot, though; the underachiever who recognizes his younger brother’s talents and encourages him to succeed rather than sabotaging him due to jealousy. Everything else is, at its absolute best, completely middling.
|12||Run the Jewels|
Run the Jewels 3
>> MILK (2008)
Disappointingly conventional—esp. in the wake of four esoteric mood pieces—and maddeningly straightforward, getting its ankles caught in the standard pitfalls and bear-traps of every run-of-the-mill biopic to ever be produced (viz., a niche subgenre that inherently suffers from predictability and whittled-down specificity.) Unfolds like a game of hopscotch, jumping on the eight or so most notable bullet points from Harvey’s life, offering distressingly little in the way of additional knowledge or depth. Touching moments come and go, either flickering then evaporating just as quickly, or feeling too pointedly manipulative to truly rupture (e.g. the second call from the handicapped boy). Penn’s over-performance palls and Luna’s embodiment of a stereotypical gay man is embarrassing. I quite link Franco, though, and Gus’s portrayed openness of homosexuality is refreshing. The concluding notion that Dan White was a closeted gay man should’ve been taken further.
With Hearts Toward None
>> THE SEA OF TREES (2015)
Critical consensus had me expecting much worse, honestly, though this assuredly is not a great film. Unless, of course, a mash-up of M. Night Shyamalan and Nicholas Sparks sounds like your idea of a good time. Exerts the clunkiest tendencies of the former upon the most cloying sentiments of the latter to give us a thoroughly silly film with a thoroughly silly and overcooked “twist” that, frankly, you can see coming from a mile away. Van Sant brings too much forced sentimentality with him and stuff like e.g. the two-fold tragedy tastes of recklessly dramatic sadism, to the point where the intended effect is usurped by incredulity. (Clunky narrative surgery reveals a certain person’s fate way too early, anyway, so it’s half-expected.) The saving graces are the clips of McConaughey and Watts in their past-tense relationship, both going for broke and surprisingly striking numerous nerves despite what little they’re given to build upon. More of *that*, please.
>> MY OWN PRIVATE IDAHO (1991)
A formal melting pot, a pure distillation of Van Sant’s most personal pet themes, and, now, a time capsule of a promising young actor taken far too soon (this film is to Phoenix what REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE is to James Dean) that thrusted queerness into the quasi-mainstream limelight with a casual nonchalance - nearly unparalleled in the 90s, swapping condemnation for not merely acceptance, but *normalcy*; exceptionally progressive for its time. And the loose-limbed, wayfaring tendencies of the film are wonderful, macerating gloriously in its own lazy-river ambiance. What I hate - and I mean *hate* - are the Shakespearean inserts, which have Reeves and Richert paraphrasing recontextualized verses from Henry IV, purposely archaic and overtly deadpan. Jarring, and not in a good way, sundering all the formless excellence. I’d much rather watch Udo Kier’s impromptu lamp dance or slip between various drifter and their superfluous diner conversations.
>> MALA NOCHE (1986)
Feels like a film Fassbinder could/should/would have made had he lived a little longer (R.I.P.), though I think I prefer Van Sant’s more free-wheeling, amorphous style of shooting unabashed sexuality to the theoretical Fassbinder equivalent, which would be infinitely more austere and rigid, not to mention immensely self-deprecating. Here, we’re given the viewpoint of the predatory party and all the self-delusion and narcissistic justification that comes with it: Walt’s superficial hospitality and playfulness masks his boundary-breaching behavior, and what’s refreshing is that he’s given semblance of a complex and entirely unsympathetic individual, not reduced to a crude portraiture of homosexual stereotypes and societal victimization. The Mexicans, on the other hand, aren’t given much to do besides serve as subordinate objects of Walt’s incessant navel-gazing. Has a preliminary aesthetic and genuine dramaturgy is in short supply, but a promising (and bold) debut.
>> PROMISED LAND (2012)
This is an intensely superb and surprisingly sharp (and occasionally hilarious) drama for about 95 minutes, and then there’s a sudden gearshift that arises from the ashes of what I originally perceived to be a trite screenwriting device that literally made me say, “holy shit.” (Was that Eggers’s contribution?) And for a moment I thought this would rank among Van Sant’s best films, but then the ending - literally, the final seven minutes - occurs and drags Gus’s most sopping feel-good tendencies to the foreground in such an anemic, textbook manner that it almost retroactively soured me on everything great that preceded it. (Not to spoil: I’d have preferred the more “malicious” variation that doesn’t involve a hoary redemption/self-sabotaging speech because, let’s face it, that’s the likely scenario.) Krasinski overplays the thespianism, and at times this feels like an anti-fracking brochure itself, but there’s some great filmmaking stuffed in the margins.
>> GOOD WILL HUNTING (1997)
Gagworthy as a tale of genius incarnate—Will is just too lopsided to be believable: Freakishly intelligent, good-looking, socially competent, *and* capable of talking to women without hyperventilation? I’m not buying it. He’s too perfect, and thus nothing in the film ever amounts to a true challenge. There isn’t nearly enough at stake. The mountain to climb becomes Will’s shitty attitude and unwillingness to cut himself from his roots, which…meh. If you can overlook that aspect of the film—which I’ve learned to—it works supremely well as an off-beat coming of age story; the classic formula of dropping an unconfident (but capable) youngster into the deep end and observing them as they learn how to swim on their own. Unexpectedly touching, and sincerely composed (esp. given the potential for saccharine); a lot of that has to do with lights-out performances. The older I get, though, the more interested I become in the Williams-Skarsgard relationship…
|6||The Velvet Underground|
The Velvet Underground & Nico
>> LAST DAYS (2005)
Van Sant made a mistake alluding to Kurt Cobain—whether that was his inspiration or not—because it causes the audience to construct expectations of the elaborate, probing enactment they think this should be. This would work in the absence of context, just like GERRY, a film with which I think this bears a striking similarity in how the environment mirrors the psychological progression of its protagonist(s). In GERRY, it was a desert that grew wider as the duo’s chance for survival demised within it. Here, it’s a gorgeously constructed mansion that’s riddled with peeling wallpaper, cracked drywall, and old floors—i.e., a beautiful and complex structure decomposing from the inside out a la Blake’s psyche. The contemplation occasionally tastes stale, the converging narrative adds very little, and the ethereal ending is awfully hokey, but I love the importance of sound in this film, from the warm crackle of a campfire to rowdy roommates blaring The Velvet Underground.
>> DON’T WORRY, HE WON’T GET FAR ON FOOT (2018)
Surprised by how much I liked this: It was a few (sizeable) missteps away from being my favorite of 2018. Don’t care for the way Van Sant thoughtlessly blends barefaced gallows humor and kitschy comedy into the ostensibly more “serious” narrative; feels especially out of place when bumping elbows with the film’s genuinely funny/touching moments, of which there are significantly more than I expected. John’s first whiff of flowers after his accident, his post-accident conversation with Dexter, or the final heart-to-heart with Donnie. Most of those interactions probably look like a fat ham sandwich on paper, but performances are superb across the board here (e.g. the way Jack Black twiddles his thumbs and refuses to look at John is incredibly affecting and “real”) and easily sell the material. Can easily get seized up with the grandiose displays of “humanity” and “struggle”, but it thrives in the minutiae and small, intimate gestures.
>> TO DIE FOR (1995)
Van Sant’s DR. STRANGELOVE, an obvious satire that balances its onslaught of exaggerated human nature with genuine venom and scathing truisms, eliciting a trifecta of mirth, disgust, and, to some degree, tension. Not typical “thriller tension.” mind you, but e.g. the way Suzanne’s disposition gradually waxes from low-level aspiration to bloodthirsty self-interest is legitimately chilling, amplified by a few key sequences where the jovial shellac is all but transparent. (The film’s single most sinister moment is shockingly simple: A mere close-up of Kidman’s face on the brink of either tears or conniption (maybe both), with an absolutely searing look in her eyes, the sound of the man talking to her slowly being drowned out by white noise.) The occasional breaching of sobering morsels like that grant the ostensible parody an unexpected heft, even threatening to stir-up emotion from the carcass of incessantly naïve teenagers at the helm of a towering puppet master.
>> DRUGSTORE COWBOY (1989)
To my mind, a far better film about addiction than REQUIEM FOR A DREAM or TRAINSPOTTING, in part because those films are concentric around a single tone, either totally dark/macabre (the former) or buoyant/cheeky (the latter). They lack balance. And I might not have conjured up such a criticism without having seen this—it’s something whose absence you aren’t consciously aware of until you have a counterpoint that demonstrates what equilibrium looks like. Key scene comes early-on: Dillon recounts the greatness of tripping on prescription drugs, making it sound like a joyous and euphoric experience - from the backseat of a sedan, whilst shooting up - as discordant, demented circus music eerily drapes across the background. The whole film is centered around this juxtaposition, this conflict between the warped optimism of using and its harsh realities—the silliness and misplaced preoccupations of an inebriated mind against legitimately grim circumstances.
>> PARANOID PARK (2007)
Exquisitely crafted tone poem of fragmented shock memory, srtutucerd siilamr to teh wrods in tihs senentce, wehre the mdidle elmeetns are jmulbed, but if the bgeininng and eniidng are in palce and the peceis are all avliaalbe soemhwree, yuor brian eevnutlaly mkaes snese of it. Van Sant slowly (and wisely) seeps in the splintered timeline, creating parallel strands once everything starts falling into place later. It’s an incredibly bold movie, one that focuses solely on the ephemeral, almost inexplicable moments left in a certain tragedy’s wake vs. the tragedy itself, cross-cutting those fibers with a heartbreaking ode to innocence and how it can be ripped away, even accidentally, in an instant of clouded judgment. Most impressive is that I found myself more disturbed by Alex’s theoretical headspace and the sickening ripple effect [the event] would inevitably have on his life, and not so much the gruesome reality of [the event] itself. That = brilliant.
Bon Iver, Bon Iver
>> GERRY (2002)
A masterpiece of economy, spatial relationships, and slowly weeping dread. Similar in a lot of ways to THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT: Starts off as a playful slacker comedy before growing steadily, intensely more desperate at the hands of the environment. In BLAIR WITCH, the fear manifests in what you don’t see. In GERRY, however, it comes from what we *do* see: Endless expanses of desert with no signs of water, vegetation, or civilization. The way Van Sant shoots this is brilliant; he will often open a shot of barren landscape by itself, and we have absolutely no idea how big/wide/close/far his camera is because we have no point of tangible reference. It’s not until one (or both) of the Gerrys walk into the frame that we can accurately gage the size of the plateaus and mountains that surround them. Even Van Sant’s callbacks to Tarr feel like respectful genuflection and not thoughtless aping: The illuminative zombie march is cinema at its most viscerally mesmerizing.
|This one's for you, Wines. |
Let's discuss, cineastes.
|2 is one of his absolute worst films in my opinion how dare you.that being said i havent seen a van sant since milk so maybe it has aged well. 3 is 1 and elephant needs to be higher. good list|
|Damn, son. I recommend giving PARANOID PARK another shot. I understand most people would probably put ELEPHANT higher, but I have a strong anti-reaction to it that forces me to rank it much lower on a personal level.|
I can't argue with DRUGSTORE COWBOY at #1. GERRY is my favorite but those top three are all masterclass filmmaking imo.
|Im not huge on GVS but Drugstore Cowboy and To Die For are great|
|I do love Elephant. |
|5 is so good|
|i'll have to check some of these out. never even heard of most of these.|
|'Im not huge on GVS but Drugstore Cowboy and To Die For are great'|
Yes, yes they are.
'I do love Elephant.'
I love it as a formal exercise (very reminiscent of Clarke's original ELEPHANT, combined with the lofty camerawork of Bela Tarr), I just can't rectify how much I hate the way the content is used.
'5 is so good'
Yeah this seems to get a lot of hate, which I'm surprised by. It seems fairly "conventional" and has some great, big-name performances. Van Sant's quiet touches elevate it, but I'm shocked that the general consensus is "meh".
'i'll have to check some of these out. never even heard of most of these.'
Be warned, GVS has a wildly inconsistent filmography, so whatever you *have* seen (I'm assuming GOOD WILL HUNTING and maybe MILK at least?), don't use those as a barometer of what to expect for anything else haha.
|I strangely have only seen about 2/3rds of Van Sant’s movies, but Good Will Hunting and Elephant (highly underrated) are my favorites, with To Die For as the runner up. Was Joaquin’s first role I believe.|
I really need to see He Won’t Get Far.
|'I really need to see He Won’t Get Far.'|
I believe it's currently on Amazon Prime (US) to stream, if you're a member.
'Elephant (highly underrated)'
Is it, though? I thought ELEPHANT was generally well received by audiences and it's a critical darling -- it won the Palme d'Or at Cannes in '03.
|I haven't seen that many of these. But that cowgirl movie was super shit, had no idea it was van Sant!|
|Elephant was one of those movies that floored me with its minimalist style when I was like 13-14 and to this day if you ask the average person if they’ve seen elephant you’re probably gonna get a no. So in that regard it might notbe underrated but like under known or something. |
|Good Will Hunting seems massively overrated to me.|
|Elephant was one of those movies that floored me with its minimalist style when I was like 13-14 and to this day if you ask the average person if they’ve seen elephant you’re probably gonna get a no. So in that regard it might notbe underrated but like under known or something.|
Thanks for clearing up what I meant. Under known is more accurate than underrated.
@tectac, thanks for the heads up on Don’t Worry, He Won’t... I do have Prime, I just rarely stream things on it, or go on there. Mainly use it for prime shipping.
|That makes sense. Most of Van Sant’s mid-00s output is lesser known in contrast to his highly acclaimed pictures. He went on a streak of arty minimalism from 02 to 07 and, in doing so, made three of his greatest films. Ask most people if they’ve seen GERRY or LAST DAYS, though, and the answer is probably no.|
|gorgeous work as expected, no-one is ever ready for just how beautiful Paranoid Park is, although I rate Mala Noche among his best - possibly even the entirety of his 90s output. |
One thing I will say in Elephant's defense: the slow pace was really effective when i was, what, 13 - me and the friend I watched it with confessed that eventually we *wanted* something to happen. That's less about our bloodthirst than what we expected from cinema of that style, which I think he subverted powerfully and with dignity (*that* gun-cocking noise aside - a single tasteless misstep). A challenge to cinema itself (when ur in ur teens at least)
|Thanks, Wines. That’s a reasonable outlook on ELEPHANT. Maybe I need to give it another chance soon, I’ve just never been able to convince myself that I can somehow overlook how morally slimy I find it. But I’ve shocked myself before, so who knows.|
You know I have to ask for your GVS list now :)
|Hey Tec, what's your take on those weird little dream sequences in the Psycho remake? Do you think they added anything?|
|Are you referring to the additional cutaways during both the shower scene and the detective's murder? Those are the only "dreamy" sequences/additions I can remember. I think GVS was just trying to add a touch of surrealism and unknowing suspense to the murders, I don't personally think they elevated anything much, but I'm not necessarily against them either. More interesting was Gus's choice to make clear Norman's masturbation when spying on Marion in the shower, which was *not* part of Hitchcock's original. In fact, I believe in the original (correct me if I'm wrong, been a long while since I last saw it), Norman's potential homosexuality was a big undercurrent in his motivation, along will all of the Oedipal/repressed mother stuff. |
|Yep, those. I thought they were odd additions considering it was almost like a reproduction of the original in colour (obviously the tone and feel was always gonna be different with different actors, and he's never gonna totally reproduce it), but then he adds these screwball little details. Not sure if the masturbation thing was intended in the original, although I read some speculation that it could have been, but never would have passed censorship in 1960.|
|still haven't seen To Die For but i've heard it's to die f|
|'still haven't seen To Die For but i've heard it's to die f'|