Malick’s case is incredibly strong for a relatively modern auteur. He is certainly having a puzzling decade by first giving us perhaps his best career work- and then falling on his face with a weaker trilogy (though I must admit I’m very excited to revisit). When I did my top 500 I had Days of Heaven at #47 and The Thing Red Line at #43. They aren’t going anywhere. I like to have a 10 year moratorium on new films before I canonize them and add them to my top 500– but in this case with The Tree off Life– I can’t deny that after two viewings I think it’s his best film. This gives me 3 Malick films in the top 50. Like Lynch, he creates a world of his own and if you put a gun to my head and asked me which director in film history made the most beautiful (I grant the word itself leaves this up to many interpretations) films “Malick” might be the first name to emanate from my lips. I’m open for debating his case against others. Malick is still only ranked 48th on the TSPDT director top 250 but that’s silliness. If you break it down to see where his films rank vs. other films in their respective years- his films on TSPDT, rank as 1st (The Tree of Life, The Thin Red Line, Days of Heaven), 2nd (The New World) and, 5th (Badlands) best films. Amazing.
Best film: The Tree of Life. So, by transitive property (using my The Thin Red Line top 500 ranking) I actually have The Tree of Life ahead of anything by the Coen brothers, Spielberg, David Lynch, PT Anderson and all but 3 films from the 1990’s (Breaking the waves, Goodfellas, Pulp Fiction). Wow.
total archiveable films: 7
top 100 films: 2 (The Thin Red Line, Days of Heaven)
top 500 films: 4 (The Thin Red Line, Days of Heaven, The New World, Badlands)
top 100 films of the decade: 5 (Badlands, Days of Heaven, The Thin Red Line, The New World, The Tree of Life)
most overrated: Badlands. It is #132 of all-time on TSPDT and Malick’s #1 film. I’m below these two grades a little. It’s his easiest film – and a brilliant one- but clearly not his best. This will remedy itself on TSPDT over time.
most underrated: The New World is all the way down at #807 on TSPDT (I have it at #193) but because it’s more recent it’s not as bad as it looks. It’s actually the #5 film on TSPDT and I have it as #2 so we’re fairly close there actually.
gem I want to spotlight: The Thin Red Line has taken 20 years to be fully appreciated but it’s there now. The #1 film from 1998 on TSPDT. The photography is sublime but how about Hans Zimmer’s scales in the score?
stylistic innovations/traits: There’s really a lot Malick is known for now: voice-over narration, magic hour, stunning photograph usually involving nature. If the director is easily parodied then he/she’s probably an auteur (QT, Wes, Hitchcock, Bergman, Leone). He’s also known as a meticulous editor who takes forever to makes movies (or at least did) as he took a 20 year break between Days of Heaven and The Thin Red Line (and then another 7 year break and then another 6 year break). Though he didn’t start out this way with his relatively straightforward narrative style in Badlands– I think he has to be known now as an editor/montagists and a manipulator of the standard narrative. His most recent trio of films (To the Wonder, Knight of Cups, Song to Song) have not been as good—plain and simple. I’m eager to revisit but the knock on them that they are more like perfume advertisements is apt (though they are beautiful). He’s also a Christian and his works have to be studied and viewed as such for their spirituality and Christ allegories (Thin Red Line especially).
- The Tree of Life
- The Thin Red Line
- Days of Heaven
- The New World
- To the Wonder
- Knight of Cups
By year and grades
|1978- Days of Heaven
|1998- Thin Red Line
|2005- The New World
|2011- The Tree of Life
|2012- To the Wonder
|2015- Knight of Cups
*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