Sunday, September 14, 2014

The Oscar Buzz Celebrates Its Second Anniversary!

Clint Eastwood
I am proud to announce that The Oscar Buzz has survived another year. It is quite an achievement that while the second wind wasn't nearly as strong as the first year, I continued to expand my audience and find new readers to interact with. I even ran The Directors Project, which for better or worse brought in new readers and helped the reader to better understand my interests as a whole. So, how do we celebrate the second anniversary? I have decided that in order to continue with the thematic elements that make these occasional lists so unique is to go with something that is not often thought of: the second films. While directorial debuts get a lot of clout, there's still some magic to be had with filmmakers on their second go. They need to prove themselves as more than just a lucky move. The following is a list of 15 films throughout history that I have enjoyed as the second go around for many fine filmmakers.

Scene from Blue Valentine

Blue Valentine
In terms of second features, there hasn't been one to impact my life quite like Blue Valentine. While Derek Cianfrance's first film (Brother Tied) remains relatively unknown, this film set him up as a voice to look out. Along with his follow-up The Place Beyond the Pines, Cianfrance has proven himself to be an ambitious voice who takes ordinary human constructs and explores them in deep, artistic ways. He isn't pretentious and instead highlights humanity's many flaws while also giving us great, challenging works of art. This film about a couple in divorce is about as flawless as films of this decade have come. It is powerful and full of symbolism in ways that challenge every other filmmaker out there to match. Not even the masters have and I would argue not even Cianfrance. Still, it is a powerful, unforgettable film with two great performances by Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams.

Scene from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory
Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory

There have been many Roald Dahl adaptations, but few have been as successful as Mel Stuart's take on Willy Wonka. With the help of Gene Wilder in a career-defining role, the whimsy is alive and the songs stick like candy to your tongue. In terms of family films, few have really managed to be nearly this creative or exciting. Even in the grand scheme of things, there hasn't been a film so purely fun and colorful that was also dedicated to candy. With iconic characters and moments, I have loved this film since I was a child and it continues to give me glee and excitement every time. The only issues lie in trying to help those who are not obsessed that this is an entirely different movie than Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, which is opposite spectrum awful.

Scene from Dazed and Confused
Dazed and Confused

It was before Richard Linklater became the master of the conversation. In this film that feels almost too exploitative, he explores how residents of a high school in Austen, TX celebrate their last day of school. It is a massive character piece that features an envious amount of future greats and some of the funniest, most honest moments in a teenage comedy of this nature. It continues to resonate with audiences and the quotable lines keep coming. It is as much a time capsule as it is just a simply enjoyable film from an auteur who was not too far from establishing his greatness.

Scene from Lost in Translation
Lost in Translation

There was a lot going for Sofia Coppola with her second feature. It was before the Coppola family became an dominating force of talent. Also, she was the daughter of beloved icon Francis Ford Coppola and thus had to prove herself after a lackluster career in acting. With her second feature, she officially broke away and shot Bill Murray into the Oscar circle while also creating one of the defining portraits of loneliness and finding someone to connect to. While her work since has been divisive, this is a universally beloved classic that captures her essences so perfectly and with nuanced quietness manages to find art in the scene and not the words. It was proof that she had talent and was ready to prove it.

Scene from Waiting for Guffman
Waiting for Guffman

There have been few masters of the mockumentary genre quite as consistently impressive as Christopher Guest. With his film about a local theater troupe, he perfected his style and created what many believe to be his magnum opus. With what would become his reliable stable of actors, he ended up managing to create some of the funniest, bizarre individuals in any film comedy that proved he was able to turn essentially an improv film into something wholly fleshed out and unassumingly honest and raw. His ability to make candid into an art form is an enviable task that not too many other names out there are capable of achieving.

Scene from Trainspotting

Danny Boyle's adaptation of the Irvine Welsh novel of Scottish junkies is fantastically humorous, gritty, and fully lived in experience of a film. It helped to launch Ewan McGregor's career and introduce the world to Boyle's aggressive attention to action and repulsive details. It is a wonderful film about living life and the bizarre hallucinations that come with pushing it too far. With one of the best opening scenes of the 90's, it establishes itself early and often with promise of more fun to come. Even if Boyle has gone on to an impressive career, he hasn't made a film this raw and unforgettable since.

Scene from Repulsion

In the 60's, it seemed like there was no escaping the brilliant darkness of Roman Polanski. Before he became a sensation on American shores, he was a master of psychological horror with his early films Knife in the Water and his second film Repulsion, which remains the best film about body horror and psychological breakdowns. I have issue finding his later films like Rosemary's Baby that interesting when compared to the ingenuity of this film which managed to turn scenery into metaphorical nightmarish landscapes. This particular film is a head trip and a masterpiece that deserves a little more respect. While Polanski has continued to make quality films, he hasn't made too many with as much immediacy as Repulsion.

Scene from Big

It was a film that combined two former film stars and created two promising careers. For former Laverne & Shirley star Penny Marshall, it started her career as a quality filmmaker that managed to find the whimsy and excitement in everyday life. For former Bosom Buddies star Tom Hanks, it was his start into prestige that would continue to grow as the 90's approached. In this film that showed what life as a child in an adult's world would be like, it managed to capture the aspects perfectly with Hanks turning in one of his first iconic roles that manages to feel authentic without being a crass imitation. He earned an Oscar nomination for this film and ended up with one of the most endearingly youthful and profound films about being a child that have been released.

Scene from Juno

As those who followed The Directors Project would likely know, I consider Jason Reitman to be one of the most promising and exciting directors currently working. It is all thanked to this lightning in a bottle film about teenage pregnancy and a countless spew of memorable dialogue from Diablo Cody. While the film is arguably twee by most's standards, the magic continues to charm me and its execution, no matter how cartoonish, is fascinating to see how novelty quickly turns into maturity with some of the most authentic characters of 2007. Even if Reitman went on to do other more profoundly relevant films, I still hold a lot of passion in my heart for this scrappy film that introduced me to his magic and whatever insight he was to develop over the next few years.

Scene from Pulp Fiction
Pulp Fiction

Let's face it. Before this film, Quentin Tarantino could have been a fluke. The success of Reservoir Dogs was rather impressive, but not enough to distinguish himself from other stylized directors who came before. With this film that won the Palme d'Or, he established his brand of pop culture-spewing violent cinema that would define most of independent cinema for the decades to come. It is hard to underestimate the value of the film regardless on your thoughts of its quality (though I think that it's really really good) as its level of cool is unprecedented with some of the most iconic performances from most of its cast. While Tarantino has continued to travel further down his strange little hole, there is one universal truth: Pulp Fiction explains the potential of what cinema can be.

Scene from Dogtooth

There's a lot of standards for what a dysfunctional American family could achieve. However, it took Giorgos Lanthimos to twist it into something more uncomfortable, bizarre, and immediately striking. While it is slow and occasionally a little too freaky, the quality and dedication to craft is one that makes this and his next film Alps such a head trip of international cinema and makes him one of the best modern voices. Even then, the success of this film that lead Lanthimos to a Best Foreign Film Oscar nomination is quite something to behold. It isn't for the faint of heart. It will repulse you while fascinating you as it revels in the idea that art doesn't need to compromise or be conventional in order to be great.

Scene from Boogie Nights
Boogie Nights

As you can likely guess, I am a big fan of Paul Thomas Anderson. With his second film, he began his journey into the Robert Altman-esque territory by making ensemble casts with dysfunctional behaviors into one lovely family. His camerawork definitely boasts that of a budding talent who would only continue to get more interesting and more defined. If Boogie Nights is sloppy, it is only in making the characters more fascinating and creating something wholly unexpected: an epic about a porn star. With a then-unchallenged actor Mark Wahlberg, this film remains both a nostalgic throwback and the introduction of a master filmmaker who has only gotten better. It's also rather crass, funny, and very sentimental in its execution.

Scene from Flirting with Disaster
Flirting with Disaster

David O. Russell is a fascinating figure nowadays because he went from being one of the angriest, most surreal directors of the comedy landscape to being a prestige voice whose films have great performances but conventional plots. Yes, the man who gave us the abysmal Silver Linings Playbook and the uneven-in-greatness American Hustle once gave us a film that puts every dysfunctional character from these films to shame. Flirting with Disaster is a straight-up dark comedy with Ben Stiller in his prime and comedian legends Alan Alda and Lily Tomlin in supporting roles. It is a film that suggests that Russell has gone soft and has lost some of his angry edge. He may still make good movies, but there's nothing in them quite as ingenious and perverse as Flirting with Disaster and its strange cast of characters.

Scene from Shaun of the Dead
Shaun of the Dead

Edgar Wright is arguably the most distinguished popular director currently working. With manic editing and intricate formulas to his comedies, he follows in the pop culture obsessive path, but has the benefit of being almost entirely original. Still, for American audiences who hadn't seen Spaced, Shaun of the Dead was a phenomenal debut that continues to resonate 10 years on. It is partially because Wright has continued to make authentic films that don't pander. He even managed to make his own genre with the zom-rom-com with leads Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. With this film, America was introduced to three of Britain's finest comedic voice and they have been welcomed ever since.

Scene from The Spectacular Now
The Spectacular Now

Rarely has teenage alcoholism been so endearing. With the amazing chemistry between Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley, this tale of high school romance remains a personal favorite from recent years for managing to capture the awkward moments perfectly. There's sentiment in each scene the longer that the camera stays focused on a conversation. It is wonderful and sweet in ways that make James Ponsoldt one of my favorite newer directors of this decade. I want him to do something beyond alcoholism movies (Smashed is also excellent), but for now, I am convinced that his style is phenomenal and a voice to look out for. Here's hoping that he continues to improve with his realistic characters and gripping storytelling style.

Those are an array of personal favorites. Thanks for making the past two years a worthwhile journey. I hope to continue to make this into something special and important. What are some of your favorite second features? Be careful, there's a whole lot of unknown first films out there to take into consideration. Otherwise, thanks for reading and let's make this next year the best that we can.

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