Everyone loves lists right, and since we’re entering a new decade, it’s a great excuse to make loads and loads of lists 😀 I’ll be working on various Best of the Decade throughout the year, and I thought I’d start with cinematography since Brittani just listed her 10 top best of 2018 over at Rambling Film blog (hey it’s also her blog 10th anniversary so head over and wish her a blog anniversary!)
I chose these images based on instinct… the one I think is the most indelible and leaves a lasting impression, as a film likely has a bunch of beautiful visuals (esp. those shot by the legend Roger Deakins!) Most of these films have the best cinematography of the decade, but I consider these images iconic in that people would likely know right away where it’s from. Now, it’s tough to whittle it down to just 10 and as we’re entering the [roaring] 20s, there’ll be plenty of Top 20s list this year.
So without further ado, here are my picks in the order of the film’s year of release:
Life of Pi (2012)
Ex Machina (2014) – dance
The Assassin (2015)
Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation (2015)
Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)
La La Land (2016)
Rogue One (2016)
Blade Runner 2049 (2017)
Shape of Water (2017)
Cold War (2018)
Black Panther (2018)
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)
A Hidden Life (2019)
John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum (2019)
Hope you enjoy my list. Now it’s your turn, what’s some of your favorite shots of the past decade?
Parabellum is Latin for “prepare for war” and is often used within the context of the phrase Si vis pacem, para bellum, meaning “If you want peace, prepare for war.” (per Wiki). This title is absolutely spot-on for John Wick 3, which picked up exactly as the second movie left off. Our titular hero who’s beaten and bloodied is on the run, literally. There’s a lot of running in this movie… running in the rain, in the streets of Manhattan, dark alleyway, fluorescent-lit building with glass walls allover, you name it… John is either running or fighting.
Mr. Wick (Keanu Reeves) has less than one hour until he’s declared excommunicado by The High Table, a shadowy council of high-level crime lords, a society of well-dressed, lethal assassins. The reason for his persona non grata happened in John Wick 2, when John broke the rule of conducting deadly business on The Continental grounds, which is supposed to be a safe haven for assassins. With $14 million contract bounty on his head, naturally ALL of the world’s most dangerous criminals are on to him. Yes, initially John was all about avenging his dead puppy (given by his beloved late wife), but the previous film has shown us a bit about his backstory and his connection to this mysterious underworld society. Screenwriter Derek Kolstad and his team of four writers has crafted something quite intriguing with the High Table concept, but in the final chapter, there’s no time to delve deeper into this underworld as the focus is on action, action, and more action.
Director Chad Stahelski, a former-stunt-guy-turned-filmmaker (who used to double for Keanu himself) clearly loves action and all forms of martial arts. He relished in basically giving action fans all kinds of fight sequences imaginable. By now he’s specialized in hyper-kinetic action as a form of storytelling. There’s barely any pause in between gun-fu shoot-em-up and another well-choreographed fight sequence with swords, knife, basically anything John could find. Man, even a book is proven to be lethal in the hand of Mr. Wick! The movie is obsessed with the ballet-of-death and there’s even an actual ballet dancing in it. As an Indonesian, I have to say I was quite giddy when two Indo actors (Pencak Silat experts from the equally-violent actioner The Raid) get to fight John Wick and even uttering some lines in Bahasa.
To make life even more complicated for Wick, the High Table sent The Adjudicator (Asia Kate Dillon) to declare severe verdicts to anyone who helps him. Wick’s perilous adventure takes him from Manhattan to Morocco where he goes to collect his debt from Sofia (Halle Berry), a former assassin who’s pretty much Wick’s equal. Hey she even have a pair of killer dogs she loves like her own children, definitely John Wick’s kind of woman. Debt collection is a running theme in this movie, in line with the classic themes of loyalty and allegiance that’s common in this genre. Angelica Huston has a brief but intriguing moment as a high-ranking member of the High Table that Wick encountered.
Now, John Wick is definitely made for people who love action movies, specifically the fantastical action flick in the vein of Mission Impossible, James Bond, Fast & Furious, etc. It’s an action franchise where absurdity is the norm given the sheer invincibility of the hero. It’s fitting that the trailer song is Andy Williams’ The Impossible Dream, its lyrics say ‘To fight the unbeatable foe… To bear with unbearable sorrow.‘ All the ridiculous and over-the-top action sequences are expected demanded by fans, and Stahelski & Reeves obviously knew this. They upped the ante by raising the stakes so high that blows the limit of credulity out of the water. I find myself laughing and shaking my head a lot during the craziest action scenes. The ultra-stylized action gets so overblown it’s cartoonish, but THAT is precisely the appeal of John Wick movies. The horse chase through Manhattan traffic scene in particular was a lot of fun to watch because it is absurd. I have to say though, some of the action scenes, no matter how amazingly-choreographed they are, would get repetitive. My mind glossed over quite a bit during many of the brutal, no-holds-barred fight scenes, even as I heard a lot of moviegoers wincing loudly as Wick viciously goes through one opponent after another.
Visually speaking, the movie is stunning. Danish DP Dan Laustsen created a vivid, luminous cinematography with extended long takes on the fight sequences where you can practically see every movement. That glass set towards the end is particularly beautiful to look at, which of course becomes a ‘house of pain’ for Wick as he literally crashes into one glass structure after another. Mark Dacascos proves to be one of Wick’s toughest foe in the final battle, but he provides some comic relief as well. The dynamic score by Tyler Bates & Joel J. Richard (who also scored the previous films) perfectly punctuates all the action.
In a hyper-stylized movie that prioritizes adrenaline-pumping action above everything else, there’s no room for narratives nor logic. There are so many inconsistencies in the way the High Table or The Continental is supposed to be run. Obviously the filmmakers care so much more about perfecting their action sequences than exploring the film’s own ‘mythology.’ After all of that world-building it did in the second film, I can’t help thinking that it’s a missed opportunity not to explore those further. Wick’s Russian backstory is merely hinted at and uttered in passing as if it hardly mattered. We’re constantly shown what John Wick can do, instead of who he really is and what truly drives him. Just as Wick’s opponents often get hit over the head with things, I feel like the filmmakers are hitting the audience over the head with Wick’s fighting skills. There’s only so many ways one can kill another person before we get numbed by the deafening gunfire or knife slashing sound.
That said, it’s still a fun experience to see Keanu Reeves in his element, doing what he does best. I’m always glad to see familiar faces from the previous films – Ian McShane, Laurence Fishburne and Lance Reddick, the loyal concierge who finally got in on some of the action, but this movie truly belongs to Reeve from start to finish. It’s interesting that the most peaceful actor (whose known for his benevolence and humility) makes the most mercilessly-violent movies. But he’s become an action legend as this suffering hero, a role he’s clearly born to play. The super-fit 50-something star doesn’t show any sign of slowing down, and neither does this franchise.
So, what do you think of JOHN WICK franchise? If you’ve seen JOHN WICK 3, let me know what YOU think!