One of the things that film critics use when they look at films is the fact that they have great themes. There are some filmmakers that are able to work this this concept very well and create great works of art. Then there are others who have lost the way. When I saw James Cameron’s film Avatar, I felt like I was watching intellectually void shit. Really, that film was total garbage that had nothing good to offer the human race at all. It was just Dances with Wolves and Pocahantas but with blue people. Plus, the overall themes of anti-corporatism and primitivism were just so dry that I was really bored. So, that said, here are my pick for the ten films that I have seen with some of the best themes
10. Reservoir Dogs
There is a reason that my favorite filmmaker is Quentin Tarantino. A lot of people lost a lot of respect for him after he was the name on the cover of the abhoredly awful film Hostel. That film was rightly criticized because it was disgusting, worthless, and didn’t have a single interesting theme in it. But everything else that Tarantino has ever made was a thematically brilliant work of art. This film was no exception. It was one of his first works, and he couldn’t have made a better movie. A bunch of guys, in over their heads, trying to figure out how to stay alive after everything is going horribly wrong, that has to be a great movie. And it was. Every character was perfectly cast. It was this film that convinced me that Steve Buschemi is one of the greatest actors who has ever lived.
The overall themes of professionalism, of loyalty, of being able to keep your sanity in a situation that is totally insane. Not to mention the fact that each of these characters brings their personal baggage into this role in an incredible way. You get to see Mr. White remaining loyal to a man who risked his life for him. You see Mr. Pink desperately trying to keep everybody on the level. Mr. Orange is trying to remain loyal to his cause, of getting these guys locked away, along with their leader, Joe. Mr. Blonde is dealing with his insanity that remained with him when he got out of prison. Every single person brought something into the fold that made the whole thing come together wonderfully.
I have wanted to put this film on a list for a while. This film proved what a brilliant filmmaker Chris Nolan is. He is a man who can make something so strange into something wonderful, or something familiar to have a new face and a new identity that people can come to recognize and enjoy. This film was incredible. Leonardo DiCaprio’s character was perfect. His character was the center. His greatest theme was overcoming his history. He was constantly trying to run from it. He was trying, again and again, to get away from the past that he also deliberately kept with him. The true irony of his character was that in trying to run from his past, he ended up reveling in it. Inevitably, he is forced to face down his past, unable to keep on running.
Every detail of this film was perfect. The surreal world that we could perceive and actually understand. The complex plot that constantly kept you going, unsure of what was going to happen next. The characters who each had their own problems, but were coming together for the offer of a lifetime. And then there was Cobb, who was just a man trying to get him. A really, truly perfect film.
8. Taxi Driver
I really don’t think it is possible for Martin Scorsese to make a bad movie. This film showed a character who was very disturbed, and getting into his mind was rather fun. I think that part of the character Rorscach from Watchmen was designed on this guy. The main character, Travis Bickle, is a guy who has gotten out of the military. It is never stated, but it is implied that he was in Vietnam. He has been profoundly disturbed, and he is looking to solve his ceaseless insomnia.
There are a number of very subtle themes. There is Bickle who is secretly working toward a very dark objective (if you haven’t seen it, I won’t spoil it for you. He is trying to find a way to fit in in this world, and is failing. His own darkness and his need to connect leads him to try and rescue a young hooker from her pimp. The idea of loss of innocence, the theme of cultural misconceptions, and the idea that it is not as simple as black and white have never been done better in a film.
This film was the perfect follow-up to Silence of the Lambs. It got into the mind of the character that made the original film what it was. Anthony Hopkins won and Academy Award for his role as Hannibal Lecter in the original, even though he was in the actual film for only 16 minutes. This film got into the head of this character in a phenomonal way. It was able to go deep into the mind of a person who is pure evil. Hannibal has never shown himself to be anything but pure evil. But in this film you got to go deeper into his mind.
The overwhelming themes are for people having to answer for their past, as Hannibal did, or at least would have, had things gone the way his captors had desired. Then there is how Clarice Starling was having to answer for letting Hannibal go all those years ago, and for getting so close to him. She had a lot of past that came back to her. The past was kind of the overwhelming theme in this, but there was also the theme of the idea of how far evil goes, and also how far ambition goes. All in all, it was an amazing film.
6. Evangelion 2.0 You Can (Not) Advance
This film was a work of art for a series that was in desperate need of being brought back into the world of modern discussion. Neon Genesis Evangelion is one of hte most complex and thematically deep series that was ever created in the world of anime. Each character is interesting, and finding out their motives, their darkness, and their humanity is part of what makes this series so amazing.
In this new film, it came back in a really huge way. It opened with a character who hadn’t been in the original series, but who was a good addition. She is a girl for whom piloting and EVA is an obsession. But the main focus will always be Shinji and his quest to overcome his own depression and fight to save humanity. You also get to see into the love-hate relationship that Asuka immediately grows for Shinji. However, unlike the series, which never went anywhere with it, the attraction between Shinji and Rei is definitely explored in a deeper way in this film, and looks to continue into the future films. The themes that were at work here were many. There was overcoming depression, finding a reason to exist in the world, overcoming your own nature, and being faced with hopeless odds but being willing to fight anyway.
5. The Social Network
This film was not only working with some great films, but it was perfectly written. A lot like Taxi Driver, every single scene was perfectly done. It is a film that really appealed to a certain type of audience, but if you are the film’s target audience, you are quickly hooked. Truly, it had to be Aaron Sorkin who wrote this film. It just had to be.
The themes that were examined in this movie were the price of ambition, which Mark Zuckerberg clearly felt, trying to find a place to exist in the world, which really came up at the end, when he tried to friend the ex-girlfriend who had been so angry at him, and also how the world and run over you, and how life is never really a fair deal. This film was a work of art, and it was done in a very good year for film.
4. V for Vendetta
This was another of the kinds of movies that pointed out that a film can have some awesome action in it while still being the kind of film that the intellectually inclined can enjoy. V is an incredible character. He is a very intelligent and well-spoken vigilante who, while he seems to be driven by the idea of freeing a nation from a horrible dictator, he really at first seems to care less about that. He ultimate goal is to see that all those who are responsible for what was done to him, and everything that follow because of him is brought to justice.
The themes in this film were vengeance, but also with a kind of will to do something better. V very much wanted to change the country, but the fact is that he simply was working to make those who had hurt him pay. Then there was the theme of abandoning your fear. Eve was afraid every single day. V got rid of this fear by doing something completely horrible to her. But in doing so, he made a better person out of her. Then there is the theme of rising above your station to do the right thing. The police detective in the film chose to rise above his place, to question authority, even knowing what the risks were. Then the public also chose to rise up, and reclaim their government. Something that I wish the American people cared enough to do. It was a fun movie, and definitely worth checking out.
3. The King’s Speech
This was a genuinely incredible film. The fact that it was a true story about a man who not only came to the rescue and rallied his entire nation, but was able to also come to the rally the entire world just makes it that much better. Every single person who was cast in this film was done so brilliantly. Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush just seemed to be made to work together in the world of film. Both are such great actors. This was a truly marvelous film. The story of King George VI, who led his people in times of war is one that all people should know, and never forget.
The themes of this film were few, but powerful. The biggest, the one that the entire film is based around, quite literally, is finding one’s voice. That drove the entire plot. Then there was the theme of being strong in a time of crisis, as was demonstrated by Helena Bonham Carter, who played George’s wife, Elizabeth. She was, and still is, an incredibly strong woman. She may have gone behind her husband’s back, but she did so knowing that she would be able to help him. Then there is the theme of becoming more than what you are, which Rush’s character showed when he was first an ordinary man, and, through sheer chance, became the best friend of one of the greatest rulers in England’s history.
2. Children of Men
This was an incredibly tragic film. It was done to show really the entire darkside of our species. The premise is that humanity can no longer bear children. All over the world, the human race is coming to an end. But then, there is a hope. A man who had never cared about anything is put in charge of the only hope that the human race has.
The themes in this film are the loss of hope, which is easy to understand why, desperation at facing your end, which now the entire human race is feeling, a man having to go beyond anything he had ever wanted to be before, which Theo did, and eventually, hope that mankind will go on. It was a great film, definitely worth checking out.
1. The Sky Crawlers
I have talked about this film a LOT. I know that. I can’t help it. It was an amazing film. I don’t think there is a single second of this film that I didn’t enjoy. Something about me is that my favorite films are ones that I can watch over and over and get no diminished enjoyment from them. It tells the story of a ceaseless war, and people who are too young to be able to understand what they are fighting for, whic ultimately is nothing at all. It goes into the minds of some incredibly deep characters, who are all just trying to find a way to stay alive, and keep their humanity, even though they are all children.
The themes in this film are many. The first, and biggest, is the theme of how pointless war is. It is really learned when you examine how tragic the battles that these kids are fighting really are. They are fighting these never-ending wars, and it gains them nothing. Nothing ever changes. Then there is the theme that the world needs to believe their freedom is being fought for. These kids are fighting in the place of actual wars. The world is completely at peace because of the fact that others are fighting, so they can believe that their freedom is worth something, even though they are not dying for it. Finally, and most importantly, there is the theme of loss of innocence and keeping one’s humanity. It was an incredible film from a brilliant filmmaker.
Themes matter. It is what give a film the power to keep with you, even when you are unable to understand the depth of it.
Until next time, a quote,
“I don’t think we were set up, I know we were! I mean, where did all those cops come from?!” -Mr. Pink, Reservoir Dogs