Fincher. Fincher has now spent 25 years as a top filmmaker. His includes 9 archiveable films, 3 in the top 500 (Fight Club, Zodiac, Seven), and another two (Social Network, Gone Girl) that should enter when the top 500 when the 10 year moratorium lifts. Fincher makes films that are not only consistently brilliant but brilliantly consistent.  When searching for images for this post it’s interesting- unlike most auteurs you’re not looking for a highlight shot or image from their work—you’re looking for the typical Fincher look/lighting/mise-en-scene. That’s an unbelievable compliment.

Best film:  Fight Club. Fortunately, after being severely underrated for a decade or so, this is slowly being correctly canonized as one of the best films of the 1990’s.

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mise-en-scene perfection at the conclusion of Fight Club symmetry in this darkness
fabulous slow-motion shot in Fight Club with incredibly sharp photography

total archiveable films: 9

top 100 films: 0

top 500 films: 3 (Fight Club, Zodiac, Seven)

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fabulous use of bodies in space in the same frame here like Antonioni here
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Fincher is an expressionist– but speaking of Antonioni this hellish location made me think of Red Desert
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there are 25-30 of these stunners in Seven
not only do we get the Wellesian low-angle, but jaw-dropping architectural set piece in the background

top 100 films of the decade: 5 (Fight Club, Zodiac, Seven, The Social Network, Gone Girl)

most overrated:   Nothing. Don’t come to be looking for overrated Fincher films.

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from Dragon Tattoo… it could be Gone Girl, Seven, Benjamin Button– what it couldn’t be is anything but a Fincher film

most underrated:   Gone Girl. . Metacritic almost always underrates Fincher (The Social Network aside)- the first film of his to score over 70 was zodiac in 2007. I have little doubt it’ll change soon but right now Gone Girl is #14 on TSPDT for 2014 (it was #22 in 2015) and that’s outrageously underrated. It might be the best written film of 2014, is sumptuously shot, and might be the best edited film of the year as well.

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wall art lighting show-off shot in Gone Girl

gem I want to spotlight:  The Social Network. It is a marvel and much more than just a hair-on-fire genius screenplay by Sorkin. Even if repeat viewings lessen the sting of Sorkin’s dialogue (which I highly doubt they will) your appreciation for Fincher’s work, lighting, rowing montage, will expand. It’s a masterpiece that may combine the best work of both David Fincher and Aaron Sorkin. Hard to top Travers: “The Social Network lights up a dim movie sky with flares of startling brilliance. Director David Fincher (Fight Club, Seven, Zodiac) puts his visual mastery to work on the verbal pyrotechnics in the dynamite, dick-swinging script by Aaron Sorkin (The West Wing), and they both do the best and ballsiest work of their careers. The Social Network gets you drunk on movies again. It deserves to go viral.”. From the opening you know you’re watching something special. Fincher paints the mise-en-scene so well with his patented darkness (he may have to take the mantle of the master of darkness from Gordon Willis), green/yellow lighting—the dialogue is fire—there are tiny flaws “I could do without the Stairmaster line” going as broad as that— apparently the opening dialogue scene was shot in 99 takes—a Fincher trademark—such a perfectionist.  It’s the 21st century Citizen Kane– told in a creative flashback narrative, genius/billionaire of our times, layered, dark. The case for it being Fincher’s best (it’s this or Fight Club I believe) is that it’s as procedurally formal as Zodiac (hmm), as “of our times” as Fight Club, and has an ending as devastating as Seven. Shakespearian weight to these characters, the setting—the morality play 2.5 scenes (including that jaw-dropping opening) with Rooney Mara and it’s a star-maker… Eisenberg was already established but this is his best, Garfield is mesmerizing, Armie Hammer became a star, too. Trent Rezner’s score is masterful- it’s the theme is only used a few times but it’s one of the best scores of the decade. A medication on jealousy. The case against it being Fincher’s best is that you’re just in the throes of the narrative machine at work for 10-15 minute stretches a few times without really admiring (too much) what’s in front of you visually—this is getting really nit-picky though and only worthwhile when making the distinction between like this and In the Mood for Love or Tree of Life on the masterpiece level. Garfield gives us the big final scene though I think I’m going with Eisenberg who has the slightly better achievement- neither are the wrong answer— Garfield’s little dance over to him at the Jewish party and then saying “I’m buying” with those eyes—it’s a remarkably sympathetic character—and then he tears your heart out at the ambush at the end. One of the best 10 screenplays in the artform’s history- ChinatownCasablancaThe GodfatherPulp FictionSunset BoulevardSeventh Seal—a few others. Lines could go on forever “You would’ve invented Facebook” I’m 6’5 220 lbs and there are two of me”—the entire “do I have your full attention” scene—“I was your only friend”. Fincher is a ridiculously good editor- one of the best we have and the Regatta scene, paired with music and stunning photography is just him showing that skill off without Sorkin at all—but his largest overall achievement in the film is the mise-en-scene specifically the lighting. It’s just very rare in cinema’s history that an auteur/director make his movies so specifically unique to look at in every frame and so beautiful. It’s unmistakably a Fincher film from the lighting. Timberlake is revelation and the film is off again- he’s intoxicatingly good. It’s not him though, and as much as I like the cast it’s not the cast—it’s Fincher—he made Ben Affleck amazing in Gone Girl–The dialogue makes for a chess match and a tennis match simultaneously. Sorkin is taking us in and out of a series of conversations, testimonies in the larger structure—and then within the scenes the verbal wit is without a peer. Another show-off editing for Fincher is Timberlake’s dinner montage.  “The ambush”- lighting as mise-en-scene as Fincher shoots Garfield low- it’s Welles. I might change the ending with the Beatles song—“baby you’re a rich man”—the Beatles are notoriously hard to get and it’s a coup—but I’d go back to Rezner’s notes like the opening and the ambush—the ambush scene is one of the best of the decades because of the lighting, Garfield, Sorkin and Rezner. A masterpiece.

from Social Network– the entire film is this meticulously designed. Try watching this one with the lights on in the middle of the day by the windows –

stylistic innovations/traits:    

Lighting, lighting, lighting- Fincher is a master of mise-en-scene and the creative god-child of German expressionism. Look at the list of directors above and below on this list—there have been great auteurs before Fincher and there will be great auteurs after but nobody’s films look like his. He’s is the current master of darkness (unofficial mantle I took from dp Gordon Willis) and his films are both gorgeous and easily identifiable- there is no mistaking a Fincher film when flipping around your tv at home. Try watching a film of his (for a second) with the lights on in your house- it’s impossible with the glare. His narratives are almost all a mirror image of that darkness- like a dystopian gloom whether he’s ruminating on masculinity (Fight Club, Gone Girl) or malevolent incarnate (Seven, Zodiac). Detractors say that his films are no more than experiments in style but those same people probably would say the same about Wes and QT. I guess Fincher doesn’t write his own work (many of the great auteurs don’t- Scorsese, Hitchcock) in his world like Wes and QT but Fincher has also reigned over some of the best narratives in the last decade so he either has had some input or has a remarkable ear for good narrative.

a master of lighting- here in Zodiac

top 10

  1. Fight Club
  2. The Social Network
  3. Zodiac
  4. Seven
  5. Gone Girl
  6. The Curios Case of Benjamin Button
  7. The Game
  8. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
  9. Panic Room
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the conclusion of Panic Room – a Hitchcock exercise film as if shot by Gordon Willis– sign me up

By year and grades

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from Benjamin Button– magnificent mise-en-scene
1995- Seven MS/MP
1997- The Game R
1999- Fight Club MP
2002- Panic Room R
2007- Zodiac MP
2008- The Curious Case of Benjamin Button R
2010- The Social Network MP
2011- The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo R
2014- Gone Girl MS

*MP is Masterpiece- top 1-3 quality of the year film

MS is Must-see- top 5-6 quality of the year film

HR is Highly Recommend- top 10 quality of the year film

R is Recommend- outside the top 10 of the year quality film but still in the archives