In honor of what would be Oscar Season 2020... I would like to give a huge shoutout to what an amazing year 2019 was for films. And if we were to have a worldwide pandemic that shutdown the film industry... I am glad we had 2019.
To highlight the best... let's start with 1917 by Sam Mendes
So this one currently sits #12 my Top 100. And while I have to let it age a bit, the main reason it came in so high on my all time favorites is because of the Camera Work, The Score, and the Cinematography.
The Camera Work:
You notice right out of the gate that there is one long shot that continues getting longer and longer and longer! And Sam Mendes finishes his story with 2 beautiful shots!
Now, we have seen this accomplished in movies before like Birdman, but this movie does it with more of a purpose, and it's that purpose that, in my mind, it really holds up this film as a future classic.
To give credit where credit is due… With Birdman's 2 shots, the real accomplishment of that film for me is on the actors shoulders as they engage in fast, witty, and often heated dialogue. And that is not something that really sets that film apart.
Where 1917 is different, is that these 2 shots are used with the purpose of creating the drama around TIME, as well as building the suspense of navigating war torn Europe.
The first shot, is structured around where they need to go and when they need to get there, which takes the simple plot of delivering a message and drives home a lot more urgency.
In the second shot, the hero loses all of that with his broken watch. He wakes up from being knocked out, not knowing where to go, how long he's been out and most importantly... not knowing if he is too late to warn the troops on the front line. And it is this disorientation/chaos that is beautifully portrayed in the City on Fire (which I will show you below).
With the two goals that I see behind the two shots, there are all the hurdles that come with it.
Filming a WWI action/drama, the sets have to be perfect as far as the eye can see (which is far more expansive than the cramped backstage hallways of the theater in Birdman), as your character looks around a corner, you are looking right along with him which once again, builds up that same suspense all the way up until the first natural break in the film and then beyond!
The last thing I will say about the camera work is that it is SO CLEAN! There was a fad in the mid 2000s where a bunch of directors started using handheld camera’s for effect, and to me it comes off more sloppy than artsy. So that is another reason why I appreciate this movie. The "2 Shot" feat was not just done to say they did it, it was done to further complement the elements that this picture was trying to highlight to its audience.
With a film that has less dialogue, you are forced to hang the weight of the story development on other tools at the directors disposal. One of those tools as mentioned is camera work and another tool is the score. And when you pair the two of these together in 1917, each of them really pull their weight. Just as the camera shots convey suspense and time, the score of this film reinforces this same message and ultimately drives it home to the climactic finish. Thomas Newman has done Shawshank Redemption, Road to Perdition, and Cinderella Man, but his score in 1917 might be his best!
Favorite Pieces from the Film are:"Sixteen Hundred Men" and"Come Back To Us"
I have kept this separate from the Camera Work category because honestly, the cinematography done in this movie is in a league of its own! The contrast of going from the death grey of the trenches to the green of a farm, and the blue of the night contrasting the fire of a city, are just 2 examples of how stunning this movie is from a cinematography perspective.
This is the scene from the Town on Fire. This was at the beginning of the second camera shot and what is important with this scene was how they used flairs and natural light to create the shadows and the chaos which complimented the cinematography of this scene.
Another thing that adds to the chaos of this scene is the broken watch. Up until this point of the movie, we have had a gauge on where the hero is going and when he needs to get there! And in the beginning of the second shot, we lose all concept of time and direction which is perfectly incapsulated by the chaos of this scene!
The Town on Fire Scene
What Stays With You:
One thing I have not mentioned is the film symmetry of 1917. How our hero starts out in a field and appears to begin like any other day in lives of these heroes. And through all the aftermath that follows in this film... our story ends with our hero retiring to a field essentially awaiting his next orders.
What stood out to me during this scene is he does not receive a heroes welcome, but simply ends his day strikingly similar to the way it began. But our hero is left with the feeling of having not quite done enough, even though he did all he could do (the score during this scene is Come Back to Us).
Come Back to Us Ending Scene
And in the same breath with the camera work, the smooth operation of the perfect 2 shots are brought to its cinematic excellence when our hero runs the trench as a last ditch ever to deliver the message at the climax of the story (the score in this scene is Sixteen Hundred Men)
The Trench Run (Sixteen Hundred Men)
** A crazy thing to think about with this scene is that when our hero gets knocked over... that was not planned. And the thought of having to do a retake would mean going back to the beginning of the second take! So they decided to stick with it and I think it added to the chaos and added the the power of the scene.
As many of you know already, I am a huge fan of dialogue in film (which is why I love Screenwriter Aaron Sorkin, who we will talk about more later). So for this movie to keep me completely strapped in with the lack of dialogue, it needed to blow me away with the other mediums of film and it totally did!
The power this film held was solidified in the credits as 1917 was a tribute to Sam Mendes' grandfather was was a message carrier in WWI. This movie was made in honor of him and in a beautiful way... as these stories were passed on to Sam Mendes by his grandfather, this was Sam Mendes' way of keeping his grandfather's stories alive.
This movie was one that topped the charts in 2019 while this needs to age a little bit, this movie currently holds positions in both my Personal Top 100 Movies of All Time as well as what I believe the be the 100 Greatest Movies of All Time. To see where 1917 currently ranks... follow the links!