Looking Back on the Best Films & Filmmakers of 2013 Thus Far

I’m not quite sure which cinematic hole of sand I have been burying my head under, but it appears that 2013 is already halfway behind us. And although many of the films which had their premieres at this year’s festivals that have been lauded as the best of the year have yet to be released, the movies that we have been enjoying in theaters since January proved pretty damn incredible. From Shane Carruth’s confounding metaphysical beauty Upstream Color and Harmony Korine’s Skittles-lit nightmare party Spring Breakers to Richard Linklater’s decade-spanning classic love story Before Midnight and Joss Whedon’s absolutely charming take on a Shakespearean tale Much Ado About Nothing, there was surely something for every cinematic appetite. So as we await the next six months of premieres, let’s take a look back on my picks for the best films of 2013 thus far, plus, read our extensive interviews with the filmmakers behind the picture. Enjoy.

 

1. Upstream Color, Shane Carruth

I love narrative and how it exists and why it exists and how it’s meant to be used. You can come up with a paragraph full of some truth, something that’s universal, some exploration, and it can be really informative, but it’s likely to not be that interesting. But you can spin a story, you can tell a narrative, and you can infuse it with this stuff, and if you’ve done your job right, you haven’t just captured somebody’s attention long enough to take them on this journey, you’ve also figured out something about the exploration through the act of the story because that’s what we key into. So I love narrative and I think that film is the height of narrative, and I don’t know what 100 years from now looks like, but from right now, to be able to communicate non-verbally but still explore, I don’t know what would be better than that. That’s what I love about it. It’s like you’re feeding right into the main line of how we experience things. READ ON

 

 

 

2. Simon Killer, Antonio Campos

We knew we wanted this very brash, loud soundtrack to the movie and it was part it from the beginning—it was always going to have these musical interludes following Simon. Then the score came about when we felt like the soundtrack needed a counterpoint—something more primal and stripped down, whereas the soundtrack was so spruced and poppy. Design-wise, we do this quite a bit: getting tones that capture something about the character. We tried to give those visual interludes a sound that was more of a frequency or a pulse. But it was all, again, a way to get closer or inside Simon’s mind without every directly saying it. READ ON

 

 

 

3. Before Midnight, Richard Linklater

I’m very interested in the reality of these actors on the screen, so I know you can’t just say lines that are written by someone else. The script, the text, has to work its way through the person, and so by having Julie and Ethan kind of work with me in rewriting that script, and personalizing it and demanding they give a lot of themselves, I thought that was the only way that film could ultimately work the way I wanted it to. The script was really a first step, but for it to give the effect that I wanted, I was looking for the two most creative young actors to fill those shoes, because I knew what would be asked of them.

   

 

 

4. The East, Zal Batmanglij

We’re like gardeners, we come to the garden and dig the soil, plant the seeds, and water it. Then we tend together. But it’s also about being kind to each other, you know, when  ideas are first starting they’re so weak, they’re like these little single cell organisms, they’re like amoebas and they’re gelatinous and you have to hold them really delicately like this little jelly fish creature and it goes from my hand to Brit’s hand. You just have to hold it and and it’s a very soft enterprise—it’s something that if you do with someone you don’t really trust it feels silly. And also, if you feel a lot of push back that little character or idea will die, so you have to create a space where you can do that back and forth with each other. It’s funny how it just starts growing and pretty soon it’s not in your control anymore. READ ON

 

 

 

5. Spring Breakers, Harmony Korine

I never try to do anything or speak to anything specifically; I never try to prove a point. But at the same time, it’s definitely of that world. It’s the idea of that world, that sort of post-everything. I wanted the filmmaking style to be very much of that. There was no real conscious referencing of other films, just more the idea: now things just live inside of me and of people and images and sound coming from all directions and falling from the sky. I wanted the film to never stop moving; I wanted it to be floating and falling and breaking apart and coming together and then smacking the shit out of you and then disappearing. And at the same time, there’s a world that’s created—the way things look and feel—that I want people to identify with that and say, "I’ve been to those places and have experienced those things." READ ON

 

 

 

6. Much Ado About Nothing, Joss Whedon 

We were certainly not attempting something highbrow and sophisticated, this was not a reproduction of Elizabethan theater, and we’re not attempting to present poetry to people. We wanted to get under the skins of these charters, and bring them to life, and find a journey through these relationships, and bring a real contemporary authenticity to it, but still respecting the fact that this was written 400 plus years ago. Some of it is very poetic, but we wanted to let the audience find that poetry rather than present it to them. So it’s very conversational and we took a very relaxed approach with the language. I think the roots go back to the readings at Joss’ house where we would have fun with plays and you could do whatever you want and weren’t’ necessarily cast in a role that you would ever play—but who cares, it was a reading and a glass of wine. READ ON

 

 

 

7. Mud, Jeff Nichols

But not wanting to make a simple getaway film about a man on the run, Nichols thought about young boys finding Mud, and who those boys were. "A girl had broken up with me and I was feeling defeated and pained," he admits. "I started thinking, yeah, what if this kid’s going to get his heart broken and there’s this guy who always gets his heart broken, but for some reason always keeps coming back. All the sudden I had what ended up being the core of the story." And that core being love–first, unmerciful love. "A lot of the time we look down on that young love we had and think, oh wasn’t that cute or puppy love and all, but its kind of the fiercest love there is," he says. "You don’t have your hands up yet, which makes the fall so hard because you’re fully committed to it, you’re all in. And oh man, it hurts." READ ON

 

 

 

8. Sun Don’t Shine, Amy Seimetz

Sometimes you get in situations where love seems like the most important thing, whether or not it’s hard and upsetting, and you suddenly feel like it needs to be solved right now. You’re stuck with this person or you want to figure it out with this person, and so the voiceover is another metaphor. I know they’re trapped in the car most of the time and they’re trapped it these situations where it’s just them, but its also like in love. There’s this idea that as long as you just don’t leave the bed or the bedroom that you guys are going to be totally fine, and then once you start thinking about society and introducing all of these other elements and these other people into the equation, it starts to unravel. READ ON

 

 

 

9. Something in the Air, Olivier Assayas

The early ’70s in France—the way I experienced them—were obsessed with politics, it invaded the whole space. There was very little left for anything else, even when you were a teenager or a kid there were questions about your place in the world. Of course it has to do with France because of the aftermath of May ’68; because that was a historical event, it was something that exploded like a bomb within the fabric of French society and it echoed profoundly. It was a failed revolution in many ways in the sense that it didn’t overthrow the government, there was no major change overnight, so it was perceived as a failure. But again, there was a sense that a successful revolution would be coming. And although that revolution never happened, the echo completely changed the values in French society. Kids are extremely sensitive to change, sensitive to what is happening in the present, they are like echo chambers. So yes, now it seems crazy looking back how focused we were on politics and how much we knew about politics. We really were extremely educated in Marxist theology and we knew about the social history of the 20th century. I don’t think it was good or bad but an interesting factor, and I don’t think anybody really ever made a movie that even remotely tried to capture that. READ ON

 

 

 

10. Laurence Anyways, Xavier Dolan

I do believe a relationship is a mix of the relationship you have with your parents and the relationship you have with your best friends. And for me, the way to have access to relatable truths is to base it on some of the closest relationships I had to my best girlfriends or best boyfriends, as well as the tenderness of a mother to her son. I think the goal of Laurence Anyways is to invite the audience in the story and because it’s so long and spans a decade, to make people feel like they’re part of that love story. So that’s why they’re introduced to so many things about these characters and their rituals and inside jokes. And then sometimes there are bigger cinematic manifestations of those rituals, as if it took such volume and importance and the life itself was acknowledging their love and granting them permission. READ ON

 

 

 

11. Frances Ha, Noah Baumbach

I’m interested in how psychology becomes behavior. Takes Frances. What she accomplishes at the end of the movie, out of context, is relatively minor in that she takes a desk job and she finds an apartment. But in the context of the movie, it’s kind of heroic. And, to some degree, it’s always trying to find the context for these things, these little movements we make in life. Like the end of Greenberg, where he goes and picks her up at the hospital, this sort of little thing for these characters means a lot. I’m always thinking of those things as cinematic and big and I see no reason why they shouldn’t be.  READ ON

 

 

 

12. Leviathan, George P. Cosmatos

It’s sort of a 90-minute blow up of all the fear and trembling and beauty that we ourselves witnessed, but not in a narcissistic way. It’s an experience that we had and we shared but we also felt we shared with the fisherman, even though they had a much more long-standing experience than we’ll ever have. So I don’t think there’s an easy way of dissociating our experience from their experience but we didn’t ever have the presumption that we’d come up with some dispassionate portrait of their experience that was disassociated with ours at all. And I think we always constantly improvising and experimenting with technology and style and how can we do justice to this world.  It’s a world in which we had our experience, the fisherman’s experience, the fish’s experience and the—completely overwhelming acoustically as well as visually overwhelming—unremitting presence of the boat, the noise of the boat, you cannot get away from the boat. You’re out there in this sublime seascape, you’re in the middle of the Atlantic at night, and you suffer from agoraphobia in the unbelievably claustrophobic space of the this boat. So we wanted to bring into play— everything: the elements, the birds, the fish, all of the crustatians, and all of the death and blood. READ ON

 

 

 

13. Stoker, Park Chan-wook

Yes, absolutely. The fact that Stoker is a coming of age story about a young girl, it’s actually an extrapolation or a continuation of the themes I explored in I’m a Cyborg But That’s OK. Also, the fact that I have a daughter that’s exactly the same age as the protagonist, and as a father, that has to be a subject matter that sparked my interest in the first place. And because of this, I actually focused more on this aspect of coming of age and expanded it from what he had found originally in the script. But rather than to say that I was interested in sexual awakening itself, in this film India’s sexual awakening is very much linked to her violent urges and what this has to do with, you know this cathartic feeling of allowing yourself to be drawn to something that’s evil? That’s acutely true of those young girls and boys who are going through their teenage years and he wanted to depict and describe the kind of chaotic state that you go through. READ ON

 

 

 

14.  Room 237, Rodney Ascher

It’s one of the big questions of the movie and I don’t think 237 set out to answer that but how much of this is intentional—of course a fascinating question but unanswerable. I think he was trying to do something much more ambitious than the story of three people trapped in a haunted hotel but he would also never want to explain that kind of stuff in an interview. But some of the research he did and the places he went, like Freudian ideas of the uncanny and the research he had already done about WWII and themes, moments in The Shining that seem evocative of his earlier films—the ghosts seem to have a kinship with some of the characters in Barry Lyndon or Paths of Glory and that sort of corrupt ruling class. But since he would never explain it in an interview and if he said something it might not always be thoroughly reliable. People can often work subconsciously, make a thousand little decisions without ever exactly thinking why—I get kind of lost in exploring the area around it. READ ON

 

 

 

15. The Place Beyond the Pines, Derek Cianfrance

I couldn’t make Blue Valentine for 12 years and I just sat on the bench and thought about what kind of films I wanted to make and thought about the failings of my first film. That was a very formalist film; it was very much, look Ma, no hands!  It was very fancy and tricky and in those 12 years, in order to keep moving as a filmmaker, I started making documentaries. And in doing so, I just fell in love with people and embraced true characters, human beings. In that time, I was able to formulate a new way of seeing movies—which was to try to approach them with just an honesty and approach every one of my characters as a human being and every one of my actors as a real person, not as an actor, but the same way I would treat someone I was shooting a documentary about. So when I make films, I’m trying to make pure, human, honest, stories that get at some sort of emotional truth and respect the audience. I’m trying to challenge too. Structurally, what this film is doing, it’s definitely trying to tread new ground. I think part of the job of the filmmaker is to tell new stories in new ways and provide new images and ways of seeing things. READ ON

Warner Bros. Will Take On Ryan Gosling’s ‘How to Catch a Monster’ + More From ‘Only God Forgives’

Between the production announcements for Wim Wender’s Every Thing Will Be Fine and Joachim Trier’s Louder Than Bombs, this has been a great week for anticipating 2014’s most coveted releases. But just in time for Ryan Gosling to head to Cannes for the premiere of Nicolas Winding Refn’s Only God Forgives, it’s been announced that his directorial debut How to Catch a Monster, has been picked up by Warner Bros. Back in January, we reported that English actor Matt Smith, best known for Dr. Who would be leading the picture opposite Christina Hendricks and alongside Eva Mendes and Ben Mendelsohn. 

Penned by Gosling, How to Catch a Monster is a surrealist dreamscape of a film that takes place in a vanishing city, centering on a single mother being swept into a macabre and dark fantasy underworld when her teenage son discovers a secret road leading to an under watch town. It was alluded to a few months ago that the film had some "Lynchian" elements about it—but nowadays that just means it’s probably psychologically stirring with haunting surrealist undertones. However, if it is indeed "Lynchian" in the term’s most academic definition, that would a delight. And for an actor that has been working for over a decade now alongside some of film’s most acclaimed and beloved directors—from Refn to Terrence Malick and Derek Cianfrance—one can only hope that he’s absorbed a bit of their craft, technical skill, and eye for telling authentic and emotional stories in a wonderfully cinematic way. 
 
But before we can even get our selves excited for How to Catch a Monster, we’re still counting down the days until Only God Forgives rolls into US theaters this July to punch is right in the gut and pack that Refn sense of style and kinetic energy we’ve been missing. So although we’ve seen about a million photos, trailers, clips, etc. for the Thai boxing thriller, there are still more rolling out. Today we’re graced with another poster for the film—a tinted blue design that’s not quite as enticing as the last, but it’s Ryan Gosling, so who’s complaining? The type harkens back to Drive‘s incredible hot pink credits but we’ve been assured by Gosling that this film is much, much different.
 
So check out the new look at the film, along with a few more photos and read Refn’s full director’s statement below.
The original concept for the film was to make a movie about a man who wants to fight God. That is, of course, a very vast obstacle but when I was writing the film, I was going through some very existential times in my life – we were expecting our second child and it was a difficult pregnancy – and the idea of having a character who wants to fight God without knowing why very much appealed to me.
 
With that as the concept, I elaborated by adding a character who believes he is God (Chang), obviously the antagonist, with the protagonist being a gangster who is looking for religion to believe in (Julian). This itself is, of course, very existential because faith is based on the need for a higher answer but most of the time, we don’t know what the question is. When the answer comes, then, we must backtrack our lives in order to find the question. In this way, the film is conceived as an answer, with the question revealed at the end.
 
With hindsight, I am able to see the similarities between Chang and One Eye in Valhalla Rising, and Driver in Drive – all are rooted in fairytale mythology and have difficulties living in the everyday world. I can see that technically, there is a resemblance in their stoic behavior, silence, and fetishistic portraits even though they live in different times and are portrayed by different actors. In Valhalla Rising, One Eye is enigmatic – we don’t know his past but he is defined by his name. In Drive, Driver is defined by his function. And in Only God Forgives, Chang is first of all defined by his enigmatic behaviour, to such an extent that he becomes a disembodied character, an ‘it’, defined not by his name but solely by his image.
 
In a way, Only God Forgives is like an accumulation of all the films I’ve made so far. I think I was heading toward a creative collision, full speed ahead, in order to change everything around me and to see what would come after. I have always said that I set out to make films about women but I end up making films about violent men. Now that everything is colliding, it may end up turning things upside-down for me. This collision is exciting because everything around me becomes so uncertain and we must not forget that the second enemy of creativity, after having ‘good taste’, is being safe.
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Derek Cianfrance Talks ‘The Place Beyond the Pines’ Trailer and the Near-Death Opening Scene

"It’s about violence and moments that effects of violent moments. It’s more internal and emotional than purely genre film," says director Derek Cianfrance, speaking to his sprawling epic The Place Beyond the Pines, in a new trailer commentary. The film entrances you from the very beginning—the opening scene played out by a tattooed and tough Ryan Gosling. In my interview with Cianfrance, he went into great detail about the first scene of the film, which you can now watch all 3-minutes of (see below). But it certainly wasn’t easy. After Andrij Parekh, his DP on Blue Valentine backed out of the film because he had a dream he would die making it, Sean Bobbitt stepped in and nearly killed himself in the process. Cianfance, who calls the film "bathed in tension" because of his sense of danger and fear that permed the set, describes the opening scene as:

So it starts out with Ryan in his trailer and goes through the carnival—where we had 1,000 extras—then goes into a tent where he gets on the motorcycle and goes into this globe of death. And Sean Bobbitt insisted that we need to go to the center of the globe, and I told him it dangerous because he had three motorcycles spinning around him and he says, "We must go to the center." So he put a helmet on, put all this body armor all over himself, and we did this shot and it was beautiful.

We got into the tent and I hid behind the bleachers, and he’s getting these beautiful shots and the next thing I know my monitor went to static and I heard a gasp from the audience. I looked up and Sean was on the bottom of a pile of motorcycle riders, he had three motor cycles on top of him. So we pulled him out and he wasn’t hurt—he was angry, angry with himself for not getting the shot. So I said, okay just stay outside the globe for the next shot and he said, "No Derek, we must go to the center," and so he did it one more time. It was again a beautiful shot with a Texas Switch and then cage closed, and in the exact same moment my monitor went static—another gasp from the audience, and I saw another motorcycle has fallen on him. But this time he was like really shaken.

We had to cancel the shoot for the rest of that day and around 3am there was a report from the desk clerk that there was a guy walking around in his underwear asking for tomatoes—it was Sean. He had suffered a concussion. So anyways, he came back and I wouldn’t allow him to get inside the center. He never forgave me for it; he still doesn’t really talk to me to this day because I wouldn’t let him get in the center. But that was the spirit of making the film and in terms of having a real warrior like Sean Bobbitt on there. I think the photography mirrors that; it’s just very solid without being tricky.

Watch his trailer commentary and stunning opening sequence of the film below.

Exploring the Drama and Danger of ‘The Place Beyond the Pines’ With Director Derek Cianfrance

 

Back in 2010, we all endured the heartbreak and psychological devastation that came with the pleasure of watching Derek Cianfrance’s intimate and gritty portrayal of love chipped to the bone with Blue Valentine. And although it took Cianfrance twelve years to fully realize that picture, thankfully, we didn’t have to wait as long for his next film—the operatic and sprawling triptych, The Place Beyond the Pines. But no matter the scale, Cianfrance has a unique and anachronistic way of portraying human relationships—contrasting the very melodrama inherent in fierce emotion with a guttural sense of authentic drama. And with Pines, he exhibits a nuanced mastery for capturing the his character’s interiors—all set on a mythic scale, rife with unwavering passion and toughness.

Spanning fifteen years, The Place Beyond the Pines unfolds along three brooding story lines—the tale of a motorcycle stunt rider who begins robbing banks in a desperate attempt to prove he can provide for his child and the woman he loves, the story of an intelligent but eager rookie cop who goes after him, and how the consequences of their actions are passed down into the blood of their sons. But one of the most fascinating elements of Pines is how expansive it feels—emotionally and cinematically. By the last moments of the film, you find yourself completely satisfied, feeling as though you’ve truly engaged in the richness of a narrative and were able to be a voyeur into another lifetime.

The Place Beyond the Pines penetrates deep into the woe of its characters as they wrestle with what plagues them internally and the inability to confront and change the world around them. Dealing with themes of generational impact, how lives mysteriously intertwine, and the way one moment can effect an entire legacy, Pines is an epic journey about fathers and sons that’s kinetic and full of life yet teeming with secrets that linger in the air like ghosts. It’s a haunted drama that draws you in slowly as the story unfurls piece of piece, taking you on a ride through Cianfrance’s moody and harrowing tale.

Back in November, I got the chance to speak with Cianfrance about capturing honesty in his films, the dangers nature of shooting Pines, and working with a cast of magical actors.

So I went into seeing the film without having a trailer or posters or any induction of what this would be at all. I imagined it on a much smaller scale like Blue Valentine but it was such a massive, sweeping film. Did you envision it on such a large scale?
It slowly built over the years. I’d say the first piece of inspiration came when I saw Psycho for the first time. I remember always being aware of the shower scene and then sitting down to watch it and being absolutely blown away—in awe of the fact that I watched this movie with Janet Leigh for 45 minutes following this character before she goes into the shower, and then there’s this amazing baton pass in the narrative. I always thought of that. And then around the same time 20 years ago, I saw Napoleon and I had an idea that I wanted to do a triptych; I always wanted to do three stories simultaneously on three screens.  I had a formalist, structural idea but I didn’t have a story to tell. Those are the things that are the most rare, when a story comes to you, and so the actual movie itself didn’t come to me until about six years ago.

My wife was pregnant with our second son Cody, and I was thinking a lot about this fire that I had always felt inside of me and how it had been very helpful to me in my life—certainly to make films, but in my everyday life it had also been a destructive force. And I know that my father had this same fire and my grandfather had it and his father had it. So I was thinking about becoming a father again and I was thinking about this baby that was going to be come into the world and was going to be fresh and be clean and how I didn’t want him to have this fire; I didn’t want to pass on to him all of my pain and all of my mistakes, I wanted him to have his own choices in life. And at the same time I was reading a lot of Jack London books and thinking a lot about the calling back of ancestors and about the eternity of every moment and pretty quickly Pines just came together. That’s how it always seems to happen, it’s like you’re fishing and wanting to catch something and all of a sudden you get an idea.

So I worked for a long time on the script with Ben Coccio who grew up Synecdoche where my wife was from—we were really inspired by that town. I had been going up there for nine years to visit my wife’s family and it always felt like I was going on a locations scout up there.  Blue Valentine was shot in Scranton and I’m interested in shooting in these towns. It has a lot of soul and a lot of character and a lot of love to it but it’s also on tough economic times. Those are the places where I want to set my stories right now anyway.

And setting it in the woods, or in these places with all this rich personal history adds an element of mystery or linage, something that’s been there forever and keeps growing but is filled with secrets. I thought that made for something very interesting.
That’s what "The Place Beyond the Pines" is in the Iroquois language; it’s what Synecdoche means. There are spirits in the woods out there and the history. Yes, the secrets are all there. It’s all mythological.

Life is inherently dramatic, if not melodrama, and with your films, you’re not afraid to show that drama. But it’s a very fine line when someone is trying to portray that strong emotion realistically without going over the top. You seem to be able to navigate this real sense of drama while still being very cinematic.
Yeah, when I was growing up my mom watched Days of Our Lives all the time and I did too. I watched soap operas and they can really be riveting. I think watching Days of Our Lives made it’s way into Pines just because I soaked up so much of that. But I also love movies and I love films that don’t pander to you. I can’t stand over-sentimentalization. I’m interested in honesty—I can’t say "truth." I remember Cassavetes has a great line in The Killing of Chinese Bookie. Ben Gazzara says, "My truth is your false hood, and your false hood is my truth and vice versa." There is no real truth you can get to but you can go for honesty and emotional honesty.

Is that something you’ve come to discover over the course of your career?
I made my first student feature when I was 20 years old and went to Sundance with it and nothing happened. I sat on the bench for 12 years, you know? I couldn’t make Blue Valentine for 12 years and I just sat on the bench and thought about what kind of films I wanted to make and thought about the failings of my first film. That was a very formalist film; it was very much, look Ma, no hands!  It was very fancy and tricky and in those 12 years, in order to keep moving as a filmmaker, I started making documentaries. And in doing so, I just fell in love with people and embraced true characters, human beings. In that time, I was able to formulate a new way of seeing movies—which was to try to approach them with just an honesty and approach every one of my characters as a human being and every one of my actors as a real person, not as an actor, but the same way I would treat someone I was shooting a documentary about. So when I make films, I’m trying to make pure, human, honest, stories that get at some sort of emotional truth and respect the audience. I’m trying to challenge too. Structurally, what this film is doing, it’s definitely trying to tread new ground. I think part of the job of the filmmaker is to tell new stories in new ways and provide new images and ways of seeing things.

My favorite thing about seeing a film like this leaving the theatre and feeling like I had just fallen in love with a really great novel. It felt that large to me like, I really watched this story unfold with all the details and rhythm of a proper story.
That’s a great compliment, thank you.

And the final song of the film is something I listen to often, so as I walked home I put it on and was able to carry the film around with me and still be in that moment, in that feeling—which is kind of amazing thing to experience.
I’m the same exact way. If I watch A Woman Under the Influence—and I’ve watched it throughout my adult life probably 20 times—every time I watch it I feel like I’m going back and visiting friends and they change, characters change as I change as person. It just feels very alive. And films, they aren’t just something to enjoy, they’re something to experience. They’re something to take into your life. It’s nice to hear you say that.

And visually, the film was so rich and the cinematography really echoed this sweeping story. There was darkness but also a very mystical sense of color. And that’s something that stayed as a thread throughout the various chapters.
It was more of a classic style than Blue Valentine, that was a very regimented style where the falling in love part was all handheld, 16mm, no tripods, one lens and the present was two digital cameras, long lenses on tripods. I didn’t want the photography to be tricky; I didn’t want it to be unmotivated. Basically I wanted it to just be there with the actors, you know? I was originally going to work with Andrij Parekh my DP on Blue and about eight weeks before we were going to start shooting, he called me and said that he had had a dream the night before that he died making this film—he was scared of all the motorcycle chases. So I had to find a new DP. I’ve always been a fan of Steve McQueen’s films and so I looked up Sean Bobbitt and had a meeting with him about seven weeks before shooting. He asked me why I was getting new DP at this point and I told him that Andre thought he was going to die making this and I asked if he thought he was going to die. But he told me that he had been a war photographer for eight years, and so I knew he was the right person for it. And also just in terms of his composition, he has absolute signature in his work and is very strong. I knew he would be brave enough to go into these places and do these things we want to do.

Are you talking about the danger in the first motorcycle scene at the fair and the final chase?
The last thing I wanted to do was make an action scene. My reference points for those scenes were America’s Wildest Police Chases—it wasn’t any movie. And in order to go shoot that, it means you have to be going fast. It required us to get stunt riders who were actually going to go ride and Bradley Cooper would have to be driving the cop car behind the motorcycle and Sean had to be in the passenger side of the car shooting. It was really risky in terms of our safety but I like being in that place of danger when I’m making a film. It happened a lot on Blue and it happened more so in this. I have to say, it made it not a comfortable film to make; it was not enjoyable to make this film because it always felt like we were putting ourselves in such a dark and dangerous place all the time and there was a lot of threat to it.

But danger is the best emotional stimulant.
Yes, and the movie is sort of bathed in tension because of that. It’s been very rare in my life that I’ve shot something that was fun to shoot and I come back and watched it and it’s any good. Usually the more tense it is on set the better the footage is. So it’s a masochistic way to approach life or filmmaking but that’s just the way it’s been working out. And with Sean Bobbitt, we wanted to start off the film with a classic opening shot, an unbroken opening shot in the spirit of so many great films that start out that way—whether it be Touch of Evil or The Player—our version of that.

Can you describe shooting that opening scene?
So it starts out with Ryan in his trailer and goes through the carnival—where we had 1,000 extras—then goes into a tent where he gets on the motorcycle and goes into this globe of death. And Sean Bobbitt insisted that we need to go to the center of the globe, and I told him it dangerous because he had three motorcycles spinning around him and he says, "We must go to the center." So he put a helmet on, put all this body armor all over himself, and we did this shot and it was beautiful. We got into the tent and I hid behind the bleachers, and he’s getting these beautiful shots and the next thing I know my monitor went to static and I heard a gasp from the audience. I looked up and Sean was on the bottom of a pile of motorcycle riders, he had three motor cycles on top of him. So we pulled him out and he wasn’t hurt—he was angry, angry with himself for not getting the shot. So I said, okay just stay outside the globe for the next shot and he said, "No Derek, we must go to the center," and so he did it one more time. It was again a beautiful shot with a Texas Switch and then cage closed, and in the exact same moment my monitor went static—another gasp from the audience, and I saw another motorcycle has fallen on him. But this time he was like really shaken. We had to cancel the shoot for the rest of that day and around 3am there was a report from the desk clerk that there was a guy walking around in his underwear asking for tomatoes—it was Sean. He had suffered a concussion. So anyways, he came back and I wouldn’t allow him to get inside the center. He never forgave me for it; he still doesn’t really talk to me to this day because I wouldn’t let him get in the center. But that was the spirit of making the film and in terms of having a real warrior like Sean Bobbitt on there. I think the photography mirrors that; it’s just very solid without being tricky.

And speaking of photography, that one photograph in the film is so important. It speaks so much about the characters and how we, as humans, remember things. Photographs are our memory when memory fails us but they also immortalize a moment. And in the film this was just one moment of happiness amongst everything else and after that things change quickly but they always have that moment as the one to remember. Why did you decide to have this photograph in there?
Everything that you said. Look, you said it better than I could. That’s why. But I will say the person who took the photograph was my wife. I cast her as the ice cream lady. My wife has made about 250 films, she makes silent comedies and she just made her first feature. So she’s comedy in our house and I’m tragedy. But she took that amazing picture of them. In the film there are these baton passes that happen and when you have someone who has the screen presence that Ryan Gosling has, they have a way to exist even beyond the scenes that they’re in—but it’s also nice to see them and to miss them and to think of them. And I hate guns, I never thought that I would have a gun in a film; I feel like it’s such cowardly device and a coward’s tool—not only for human being but also for filmmakers, they’re just thrown around with such reckless abandon. If I had to put a gun in a film I wanted to make sure it had an impact, and not in a grotesque, oh how violent I could make it, but an actual impact in terms of story and characters and longing and destiny.

And the one moment with the gun in this film, that’s the crux of it; all the ramifications rely on that moment.
Yes, and the photograph is a way, to me, that we could see people that we don’t see anymore because they’re not there. Death is permanent and this was just another honest way to show that instead of flashing back—like if you lose someone or miss someone, what do you have? You have your memories and your pictures.

In the beginning of the film the music felt like this omnipresent voice over looming over every scene and by the end I realize that it was in fact the foreshadowing for this bigger story that I wasn’t aware was to come. And Mike Patton is such a cool and interesting choice; can you tell me about that?
I hate underscoring in movies, I have kind of an allergy to underscoring in movies, you know? I have an allergy to manipulations, so that’s why I like using music in a bold way. In terms of this music and this film, when I was a teenager I went to see a Mr. Bungle concert in Denver, Colorado and I saw Mike Patton singing and he had on a bondage mask with horse blinders on the side and he was licking the bald security guard’s head in the first row and at that moment he became my hero and my whole life I always worshiped him. I always thought the music that he made—whether it was with Faith No More or Bungle or Fantomas—I felt like it so cinematic. So it was childhood dream of mine to work with him, just like it was an adolescent dream of mine to work with Ray Liotta. And when I had an opportunity to do the film—I feel like if you have an opportunity to make your dreams come true, you should—I met with Mike one day. He really got the script, he was really into it and we spent a few years talking about it and when the time came to make the movie, I hired him to do the soundtrack. I wanted it to have this sense of legacy, this sense of yes something bigger—like we were talking about before with the forest and secrets and history and the ghosts of time and the ancestors. We talked a lot about making music that was about the ancestors calling back. It’s hard to speak about music because it’s not tangible. He did this thing and tried to make something that haunted the film and that’s what I always loved about his music, I always felt it was haunting so he did this great soundtrack.

And it works as a through like throughout the film, navigating it.
Exactly. In making a film with three stories, to me, I always thought the failure of this film would be if people saw it and thought it was three different movies. It’s thematically about legacy and the music was really the way to unify that. In terms of our film grammar, we just did it the same; it wasn’t like Blue Valentine where we were changing styles for two different films. So this was different characters but the same constant language.

The film also, to me, harkened back to classic 1970s epic drama that don’t really exist anymore, like The Deer Hunter. I had also been watching Serpico just before this and thought a lot about that with Bradley’s whole storyline. Were you inspired by those kinds of films?
Oh yeah, definitely. And I love Lumet. So yeah obviously Deer Hunter too. We wanted to make something that was tough and felt tough and make in that spirit. You know, besides the 1920s, the ’70s is the greatest time for movies. If I have to go watch a movie it’s usually from then—but that’s not to say the ’80s weren’t great too.

But the ’70s had this immense sense of passion and fearlessness.
But also risk, right? I studied with Phil Solomon and Stan Brakhage and that’s one thing that Phil used to always tell me, that as an artist you have to risk failure. And I felt like on Pines we were in that place of really taking chances all the time. I started realizing that courage is not about being fearless, that being courageous is actually about being scared and still being brave enough to go through and confront the thing that’s scaring you. So with Pines, we tried to always put ourselves in a place where we are walking this tight rope and we weren’t footloose and fancy free doing it—it was a lot of risk.

And one of the biggest surprises of the film was how fierce the performances where from Dane DeHaan and Emory Cohen. Together they were pretty magical.
It was really, really tough to find these kids. I cast over 500 kids looking for these roles. I love films like Fish Tank where you just cast someone whose raw and untrained, put them in a film, and observe their nature, that’s great. But with Pines, because of the fact that it’s this narrative that’s passing a baton, and because you have Ryan who is a great, magical trained actor and Bradley who is so charismatic and magic, I knew I had to cast people to fill their shoes that were also great actors. It wouldn’t work then; it’s the consistency of language, the consistency of that world. So I found Dane about six weeks from shooting. I met with him and he was such a great guy and I knew I could trust him. And then I used him as my collaborator—every actor that I work with I consider co-writers and co-collaborators with me. So we teamed up and talked about the guys, and I had Dane come in and we met with a lot of different actors. When Emory Cohen came in, oh I’ll never forget this session. I said who is your favorite actor and Emory said Marlon Brando and Dane said James Dean, and they started fighting with each other for ten minutes. So I was like okay, who else, and then Emory said De Niro and Dane said Pacino and they went off on that—and I was like, done! They were obviously cut from the same cloth, they both have the taste and the ambition to be great, they both have strong opinions and they’re arguing with each other on every step of the way and if I can just harness that into the movie and allow them to be these characters but also themselves and to allow their real nature to come out the would be great. And it was such a relief to have those guys I could trust in all of those scenes. I just want the films to be living and have a real pulse to them and Dane and Emory certainly could do that.

And on Blue you had Ryan and Michelle live together and become very close before shooting. Did you work the same way on this with Bradley and Rose?
They played house together and went out on their first date and just built and developed a relationship. It’s interesting, you have a marriage where you’re meeting them and it’s already on the rocks and there’s a real distance between them. So one of the most important things I did beyond on their relationship was Bradley’s time spent with police officers and Rose’s time spent with police officer’s wives. The divorce rate among police wives is extremely high; it’s very stressful to be a cop and so for Bradley to meet cops and tell him that the first thing cops do when the get in the locker room is take off their wedding ring because they don’t want the guys on the street to use that against them, was important. And so he has to put that piece of himself away.

You said earlier that the film feels novelistic, well the first cut of the film was three and a half hours long and that was the full script. It was because I was still going for all of those honest truthful moments with my actors that all of these scenes could keep going and there was so much more with Bradley and Rose that we could have put in the film that was bigger than one movie. That’s what I talked about with Ryan and Michelle on Blue Valentine too: everything we experienced on the film—them living in the house for a month—even though we don’t show that, even though we don’t put that on screen, as long as the actors experience it, they embody that in their performance and it becomes a real intangible thing onscreen. I really strongly believe in process and if you don’t do the process, to me, I don’t have the truth of it, I don’t pull the rabbit out of my hat and make you believe that I did it. I think you can really see it as an audience member, I think you can see when they’re faking it.

And what about Ryan and Eva? Had they known each other before shooting?
They had known each other a little bit before making the movie so they were friends going into it, which was great because they had an immediate connection between each other. And to shoot with them, there were scenes where I would where there was just magic happening between them, which is such a gift for a filmmaker. Chemistry is so much on a movie. So I got Dane and Emory and their chemistry where they’re always arguing, I’ve got Bradley and Rose whose chemistry is these people who love each other but there’s a great distance between them, and then Ryan and Eva which their chemistry became this longing. And to be a filmmaker and have these real things, to be able to capture a real longing on film is amazing. Again, coming from a documentary background, that’s all I’m trying to do—to see something that’s real. And these moments, to capture these moments it’s fleeting. So of course I have great actors so it doesn’t all have to be real but I just think it’s the X factor.

Listen to Mike Patton’s Frighteningly Good Soundtrack for ‘The Place Beyond the Pines’

As one of my favorite films of the year thus far, Derek Cianfrance’s The Place Beyond the Pines has been on the tip of my tongue for quite some months now. And one component of the film that struck me the hardest was the sound that penetrated throughout its chapters. Not simply scoring, rather, Mike Patton’s music for the film is vivid and daring, acting as an omnipresent force foreshadowing the grand tale that lies ahead from the very beginning. It’s a haunting and beautifuly cineamtic sound that only Patton’s mix of spook and sublime could have conjured up. In our interview with Cianfrance—coming on Wednesday—he told me:

I hate underscoring in movies, I have kind of an allergy to underscoring in movies, you know? I have an allergy to manipulations so that’s why I like using music in a bold way. In terms of this music and this film, when I was a teenager and I went to see a Mr. Bungle concert in Denver, Colarado and I saw Mike Patton singing. He had on a bondage mask with horse blinders on the side and he was licking the bald security guard’s head in the first row. And at that moment he became my hero and my whole life I always worshiped him. I always thought the music that he made, whether it was with Faith No More or Bungle or Fantomas, I always felt like it so cinematic. So it was childhood dream of mine to work with him….I wanted it to have this sense of legacy, this sense of yes something bigger.
And now, you can stream the incredible soundtrack in its entirety HERE and purchase it next week via Milan Records. So if you’ve listened without seeing the film, it’s probably pretty different than what you would have anticipated, but believe me, only enhances the epic and sprawling tale. Enjoy.

Check Out a New Trailer and On-Set Photos for ‘The Place Beyond the Pines’

In our upcoming interview with The Place Beyond the Pines director Derek Cianfrance, we spoke about the presence as such an actor as Ryan Gosling. And as the film is indeed a triptych epic drama, filled with "baton passes" between characters, Cianfrance said that Gosling has the ability and the power to exist beyond simply he scenes in he is in—and it’s true. Gosling embodies his character perfectly and when recently speaking to the Huffington Post recently said:

One thing that kind of handed me the key to the character was that I totally overdid it with the tattoos," says Gosling, who has a teardrop inked beneath his left eye in the film. "I said to Derek, `I got to lose this face tattoo. It’s the worst. It’s so distracting and it’s going to ruin everything.’ And he said, `Well, I’m sure that’s how people with face tattoos feel. So now you have to pay the consequences of your actions.’ So I had to do the whole film with it and now see it on posters. It gave me a sense of shame that I feel was inherent to the character.

With the film just one week away, there’s a new thrilling trailer for you to enjoy, plus some more stills courtesy of MTV, as well as the photos, posters, teasers, and other soundtrack bites we’ve teased you with thus far.

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Get a Closer Look at Nicolas Winding Refn’s ‘Only God Forgives’ With Three New Photos

With next week’s premiere of The Place Beyond the Pines, we’ll see Ryan Gosling reunite with Derek Cianfrance, the director who broght out one of the finest performances of Gosling’s career with Blue Valentine in 2010. But as no stranger to collaboration and developing close friendships with filmmakers, his most explosive hit came with last year’s synthed-up high-speed fairytale Drive. And after a well-documented bromance with director Nicolas Winding Refn, we have been eagerly awaiting their follow-up feature, the Thai boxing thriller Only God Forgives.

In Little White Lies‘ Drive issue last year, Gosling spoke about his symbiotic relationship with Refn and Cianfrance, saying: 

It’s everything. I mean, you’re only as good as your director and if you’re not on the same page, if you don’t have the same vision as the director then it’s hard to really make anything work, the movie won’t reach its full potential. I’ve been looking for filmmakers that can help me and that I can help make the most potent film, and I feel like I’ve found that in Derek Cianfrance and in Nicolas. I feel like we’ll make many movies together.

But Refn and Gosling have been keeping pretty quiet on Only God Forgives thus far, save a slight teaser that appeared online a few months ago. The film will more than likely see Cannes premiere in May before it’s late May release in France, and today we’ve got three new images from the film courtesy of Allocine. As of now, a US release has yet to be set but a trailer should be arriving in the coming weeks. 

When LWLies also interviewed Refn back in September 2011, he spoke about the nature of silent stoic, strong characters, saying:

It goes back to One Eye [Valhalla Rising], the enigma, and it’s a kind of classic mythological character that is part of our tradition of storytelling. You know, the silent hero that has a past we don’t know and we read things into him that mirror our own needs. It’s a very classical figure that’s been around in literature for thousands of years. It’s a character that I’m very fond of and it actually going to be in my next movie Only God Forgives.

Back in June of 2010 I told Refn that I heard he was making a "western set in Bangkok," to which he seemed hesitant to respond: "Yes, I am doing that, but first I’m going to Los Angeles and doing a movie called Drive with Ryan Gosling." Well, I guess we all know how these plans panned out. 

The official synopsis for Only God Forgives reads:

Julian (Gosling) lives in exile in Bangkok where he runs a Thai boxing club as a front for the family’s drugs smuggling operation. When Julian’s brother Billy is killed their mother, Jenna (Kristen Scott Thomas), arrives in the city. She wants revenge and forces Julian to find the killer. Julian’s contacts in the criminal underworld lead him directly to The Angel of Vengeance, a retired police officer who knows everything and who is both Judge and Punisher. Jenna demands that Julian kill The Angel of Vengeance, an act that will cost him dearly.

Take a look at the photos below.

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Derek Cianfrance Talks Filming at the Fair Plus See New Photos From ‘The Place Beyond the Pines’

I have been talking to myself about The Place Beyond the Pines for quite some time now. Yes, we’ve shared the posters, stills, clips, tracks, trailers, etc. but there are so many details narratively and thematically that I just cannot reveal unless you’ve been swept up in his epic drama for yourself. And next week, I will finally release my winding interview with Cianfrance, hopefully getting you even more excited for the film’s release.

But if there’s one thing that’s evident about Pines thus far is that it looks absolutely amazing, Sean Bobbitt’s cinematography playing close to the extreme beauty of it’s characters and heightening their woodland setting into a dark and mysterious place of wonder. And in speaking with MTV News recently, Cianfrance went on to talk about the opening shot of the film on the fairgrounds, saying:

We were shooting in an active fair. We had to put our circus tent and the trailer exactly five minutes and 30 seconds in walking distance away from each other. That was the time we had slotted for our title sequence. We timed everything out, and we did this take….It was kind of a nightmare…We had a number of our ADs out on the set that day, and they’re all wearing these big Dr. Seuss hats. They were crucial in pulling people’s attention away from Ryan. That was a big challenge with a shot like that. Once someone looks at the camera, it ruins the shot.

And now you can check out some more beautifully shot stills from The Place Beyond the Pines HERE, and make sure to check back for our interview with Cianfrance next week.

Check Out This Great Ad for Dick’s Sporting Goods Directed by Derek Cianfrance

Between his first avant-garde student feature Brother Tied and his emotional sophomore effort Blue Valentine, there was a 12-year gap where Derek Cianfrance found himself "on the bench." He began focusing on documentary work—which would later inform his adept understanding of human emotion and authentic drama—but a decade passed before he made a second narrative feature. But in that time, he also dabbed in the world of commercials, and with a new ad for Dick’s Sporting Goods directed by Cianfrance and shot by Peter Deming (Oz the Great and the Powerful), the versatile director shows that he really knows how to craft some awesome-looking tension. 

The commerical is actually a really fantastic one-minute spot that kind of makes me wish Cianfrance would direct some well-lit baseball movie starring Ryan Gosling as a star pitcher hiding the secret torture of his past—or something, you know? Anyways check it out below and continue to get excited for The Place Beyond the Pines.