Tag: Terry Gilliam

The Zero Theorem (2014)


Terry Gilliam is one of the most insane directors we have currently working. There’s nothing he won’t do, it seems, and every movie feels like an effort to top himself. Sometimes that creates greatness (12 Monkeys, Brazil, parts of The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus) and sometimes that way leads to madness (the little of Tideland I could watch, and parts of The Fisher King). Say what you will about the actual quality of his films, he rarely holds himself back. The Zero Theorem, his first movie in five years, is no exception as he gets as philosophical as he has ever been when he ponders the meaning of life and what happens if everything is nothing.

Of course, a bunch of movies have these kinds of questions in mind, but they hardly ever have the pluck or sense of humor that Gilliam at his best brings to a film. I know it’s probably blasphemous to say this, but The Zero Theorem might be his best work. I’m probably super biased, as I love these psychobabble movies, but I can’t deny that the movie really really worked for (on?) me. A large part of that credit goes towards the story, written by Pat Rushin, which constantly straddles the line between comprehensibility and insanity, between profundity and pretentiousness, between mundanity and exoticness. It’s a delightful script, too, as it allows Gilliam his usual playful exuberances visually and tonally. Although the film is pondering the Deep Thought-type questions of the universe, Gilliam and Rushin never allow it to get too serious. The actors, led by Christoph Waltz who proves for the first time that he can carry an entire movie on his back, perform their own silliness extremely well. It must be difficult to get all of these ideas, both intellectual and emotional, across while not delving into parody or archness, and from David Thewlis as a hapless middle manager to Lucas Hedges as a hardware whiz-kid to Matt Damon as the possibly malicious corporate head with a chameleon wardrobe, all the actors are wonderful. A special mention must go to Mélanie Thierry, who performs her semi-Manic Pixie Dream Girl role as admirably and charmingly as such a role has ever been played. She’s wonderful.


If this all ended poorly, it might be an interesting failure. It would join Tideland as one of those movies which has its supporters but never found the success it deserves. Heck, I might very well be one of those crazies shouting from the hilltops about its glory. But damn, does it stick the landing. There’s a lot going on in this movie, and some of it involves some complex-ish literary theory to grasp fully, but suffice it to say that it revolves around the author’s we and performative utterances, plus some Bible knowledge (thanks Wikipedia!) and some heavy lifting. I guess The Zero Theorem probably won’t be a huge hit, and it is very likely going to divide audiences with its deliberate insanity which masks the film’s loftier intentions. I really fell for it.

Top 100 Films: The _6’s

Today’s portion of the list is the _6’s. That means that by the end of this post you’ll know half of my top 100! Hooray! Today brings 3 sci-fi movies, 3 dystopias, 3 tragedies, 2 movies by one director, back to back, and only three from before I was born! New Things! Enjoy.

96. Minority Report (2005)

Directed by Steven Spielberg. Starring Tom Cruise and Samantha Morton

I’m sorry John, but you’re going to have to run again.

Spielberg has three periods of his career. This film is the best example of his latest period. He’s still got the goods when it comes to action and a slick visual style, but for some reason people don’t appreciate these films as much. Minority Report is a great action movie and a bit of a thinker, it can’t be all bad.

86. A Serious Man (2009)

Directed by Joel and Ethan Coen. Starring Michael Stuhlbarg and Richard Kind

The Uncertainty Principle. It proves we can’t ever really know… what’s going on. So it shouldn’t bother you. Not being able to figure anything out. Although you will be responsible for this on the mid-term.

The Coens make smart movies about people doing dumb things. In A Serious Man their main character has a lot of bad things happen to him and he can’t figure out why. It’s a semi-modern retelling of the story of Job, except funny. The ending is ambiguous as they like to do, but it fits in with the rest of the story.

76. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007)

Directed by David Yates. Starring Daniel Radcliffe and Imelda Staunton

Look at it this way: every great wizard in history has started out as nothing more than we are now – students. If they can do it, why not us?

Now that the Harry Potter series is complete, I can safely call this one the best of the bunch. The first in David Yates’ tenure at the helm, this movie has one of the best on screen villains in Imelda Staunton’s Dolores Umbridge. She’s the epitome of mundane evil, a person who doesn’t stomp around and kill people but is still clearly villainous. And then throw in the first big magic battle and you’ve got a great film.

66. Brazil (1984)

Directed by Terry Gilliam. Starring Jonathan Pryce and Kim Greist

I assure you, Mrs. Buttle, the Ministry is very scrupulous about following up and eradicating any error. If you have any complaints which you’d like to make, I’d be more than happy to send you the appropriate forms.

It makes sense that a former member of Monty Python would make such a crazy movie. It also makes sense that a person whose job is making movies would be familiar with bureaucracy. What doesn’t make sense, at least on first sight, is that it would be such a funny and beautiful film. Brazil is satire of the highest order, a dystopian vision of a future run on paperwork. And plastic surgery to the extreme.

56. Children of Men (2006)

Directed by Alfonso Cuarón. Starring Clive Owen and Clare-Hope Ashitey

A hundred years from now there won’t be one sad fuck to look at any of this. What keeps you going?

What happens when there’s no hope in the world. Children of Men subtly realizes this through overheard news reports and glimpses of graffiti. Everything is messed up. Impeccably directed and full of strong performances, the action scenes are among the best of the decade.

46. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (2007)

Directed by Julian Schnabel. Starring Mathieu Amalric and Emmanuelle Seigner

Hold fast to the human inside of you and you’ll survive.

Movies are often kinetic, movie from one place to another as quickly as a cut can be. But this one stays mostly confined to one space and, at times, one point of view. Amalric’s character is paralyzed except for one eye, and the movie covers the way he deals with the situation and the beginnings of his book (which eventually turned into the movie). It’s a gorgeous film, heartbreaking and inspiring.

36. Reservoir Dogs (1992)

Directed by Quentin Tarantino. Starring Harvey Keitel and Tim Roth

I don’t wanna kill anybody. But if I gotta get out that door, and you’re standing in my way, one way or the other, you’re gettin’ outta my way.

Here’s another angry men locked in a room yelling at each other movie. This one has the benefit of a great script and great performances. But when I rewatched it recently what stood out most to me was the sure-handed direction. It must be one of the best debut films I’ve seen.

26. Inglourious Basterds (2009)

Directed by Quentin Tarantino. Starring Brad Pitt and Mélanie Laurent

We have all our rotten eggs in one basket. The objective of the operation: blow up the basket.

Some people complain that Tarantino is only able to rip off other movies and that he never does anything with his “homages”. Inglourious Basterds is proof that he’s got a lot more going on than just taking scenes from movies nobody else has seen. A treatise on the power of film to rile up the audience, IB deftly shows us Nazis cheering at the death of American soldiers only to have us cheer at the death of powerful Nazis. With clever dialogue scenes and bang up action scenes, this one has it all.

16. Three Comrades (1938)

Directed by Frank Borzage. Starring Margaret Sullavan and Robert Taylor

May I drink to that please? To nice weather for drifters!

A love story of the highest order. The only screenwriting credit for F. Scott Fitzgerald. Margaret Sullavan. Frank Borzage. A beautiful story beautifully told. Check this review.

6. The Shining (1980)

Directed by Stanley Kubrick. Starring Jack Nicholson and Shelley Duvall

No sir, you are the caretaker. You’ve always been the caretaker. I ought to know: I’ve always been here.

The scariest movie of all time. The story of a family deteriorating with ghosts and elevators full of blood. It’s the little touches that make this movie tick, like the shot of the man in the dog/bear suit as Jack is chasing Wendy. It’s different from the book, but different in a good way.

The other parts of The List:

The _0’s section

The _9’s section

The _8’s section

The _7’s section

The _6’s section

The _5’s section

The _4’s section

The _3’s section

The _2’s section

The _1’s section

30 Day Film Challenge: Day 12 – A Film By Your Least Favorite Director

Day 12 – A Film By Your Least Favorite Director
Avatar (2009, Cameron)

Can I choose Aliens again? No? Ok, Avatar it is. Take all of the problems I outlined in Aliens and fix none of them and you get Avatar. I don’t even care that it’s not original because, for the most part, nothing is. If the dialogue was even remotely good I’d forgive the trite plot. The visuals are cool, yes, but they serve anything. I don’t need subtlety in my movies but I do require something that respects my intelligence. You want a good action film? Go to Die Hard or the Bourne films. Avatar has nothing outside looking cool (and even that isn’t really all that special. It’s fantasy plus neon.) and making a lot of money. It is so thoroughly mediocre for a movie that should be amazing. That’s the real problem. James Cameron can create cool looking things but he has trouble getting me to care about them. The Abyss is his only film that I can truly claim to enjoy without reservation since even T2 has the same annoying-child-actor-problem that hurts Aliens. For a guy that can do pretty much anything he wants he doesn’t seem to want to do anything of actual import. It’s a damn shame that people like Guillermo del Toro and Terry Gilliam can’t get the proper funding for their films but Cameron’s utterly boring films rake in the dough.

  • It seems like Michael Bay would be an obvious choice here but I like a lot of his movies. The Rock is fantastic and The Island and Armageddon both have some things going for them. Also, I really like the looks of Transformers: Dark of the Moon or whatever it’s called.
  • James Cameron is probably better than most directors but it is his lack of ambition that gives him his spot here. I never expect a Paul W.S. Anderson movie or a Uwe Boll film to be anything but crap. Cameron could be so much better!