Nicolas Winding Refn- when your middle name is Winding- you have to use the full name. Refn is a prolific Danish filmmaker who directed Pusher at age 26 in 1996 (later turning into a trilogy) and has followed that up with seven other archiveable films since and counting. In stretch from 2009 to 2016 with four straight films- I’m not sure you could do a top 10 of the year without including Refn’s work- remarkable consistency. He makes unmistakably violent films, with stoic protagonists, bathes them in color (most often neon) and is quite simply of the most accomplished visual directors of his generation.
Best film: Drive. I don’t think it is an open and shut case as both Valhalla Rising and Only God Forgives are spectacular and highly ambitious. It was Drive that made many people (me included) seek out Refn’s previous work and track him since. Cliff Martinez’s brilliant score and a who’s-who of a talented ensemble (try to get that cast together again right now) doesn’t hurt—but it is Refn’s pace, the patient tracking camera that made this one of 2011’s very best films.
total archiveable films: 8
top 100 films: 0
top 500 films: 0
top 100 films of the decade: 3 (Valhalla Rising, Drive, Only God Forgives)
most overrated: Not a thing- not close. So the next time someone accuses me of just regurgitating what mainstream critics’ think (it doesn’t happen often but does on occasion) I need to remember to bring up Refn. He’s a much better director than the consensus would lead you to believe. Now he’s done most of his best work recently, but he currently has 0 films on the TSPDT consensus top 2000. It doesn’t get much better for the 21st century list either—literally the only film that lands in the top 1000 of the 21st century TSPDT (I have 3 of his in the top 100 of their respective decade mind you as a comparison) is Drive which is still underrated- landing at the #12 slot for 2011 films.
most underrated : Only God Forgives. The follow-up to Drive disappointed everyone except for me. I’ve said this often but seek out the film directly after a major work from an artist that got universal praise (see Sofia’s Marie Antoinette, or Fellini’s Juliet of the Spirit). The incorrect initial backlash often irreparably hurts the reputation of these films. This is yet another example. Refn doubles down on the set design, use of neon light and color. It would probably be better as a completely silent film (it doesn’t have a ton of dialogue anyways—and we’re watching this film on a screen, not reading the book on a beach)—but the visuals will blow your hair back.
gem I want to spotlight : Valhalla Rising. Another Refn film that proves he doesn’t really need any dialogue at all. It is Only God Forgives set outside and instead of expressionistic lighting- here his gorgeous mise-en-scene consists of almost mythic Herzog-like natural exteriors and a talented eye for framing.
- tales of masculinity, violence
- the hyper expressionistic neon lighting and color work from the Italians Bava and Argento
- stoic performances—silent cinema, rarely needs dialogue, drained of emotion—sure, McQueen is an example—but (and it is an odd pairing) also Bressonian models—or Dreyer performances from Ordet or Gertrud
- I see the influence of Germans- the gonzo bizarrities of Herzog’s world combined with the clear care and curation of a set design from Fassbinder
- Carefully orchestrated tracking shots— I mention this during his weakest archiveable effort (and the quality is not a fit comparison, strictly the description)- but the impressive sections feel like Tarkovsky is directing Ferrara’s Bad Lieutenant
- Only God Forgives
- Valhalla Rising
- I Am the Angel of Death: Pusher III
- The Neon Demon
- Too Old to Die Young
By year and grades
|2005- I Am the Angel of Death: Pusher III||HR|
|2009- Valhalla Rising||HR|
|2013- Only God Forgives||HR/MS|
|2016- The Neon Demon||R/HR|
|2019- Too Old to Die Young||R|
*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