Aster. Aster just made his debut in 2018- but Aster’s start is most certainly one of the great starts to a career in recent memory (Steve McQueen comes to mind as a comparable). On their own, both films are among the handful of greatest cinematic achievements of their respective years. However, when you combine them—you have the emergence of a young master. They share not only a genre (horror), but they are both meditations on the grieving process, studies of the occult, powerful dramas (one a family drama, the other a relationship drama)—and Aster share’s Chazelle’s ability to use seemingly every cinematic tool and deploy them with great effect.
Best film: Midsommar
- With this and 2018’s Hereditary as his debut, Aster has announced himself as one of the preeminent auteurs in cinema, horror genre or otherwise
- Starts with a mural, then a beautiful montage (stunning landscape photography) of Winter and the foundationary long America-set prelude is important to the character building and formal construct—all darkly lit the suicidal sister says “everything’s black” in the email—almost like a Fincher film (as juxtaposition to the brightly lit day-time washed out whites of Sweden’s summer)—it also is a comment on Dani’s (a spectacular Florence Pugh) psyche
- the washed out whites- lighting and costume work are contrasted with the darkly lit almost Gordon Willis or David Fincher-like prologue set in the US–they’re all in dark clothing, the waitress is in black– a sharp contrast with the white frocks in Sweden
- Impressive world-building by Aster– Harga– the “hottest and brightest summer on record”. The set piece architecture in the Swedish field built from scratch—the house looks a bit like 2018’s Mandy’s house (with an impressive Sistine chapel moment)—the barn set piece is so exquisitely designed, there’s a conversation between Jack Reynor’s character and one of the elder women approving a match with incredible wallpapers, the rocks for the suicide sacrifice for the elders is excellent production design and location choice as well—washed out (Kieslowski’s White-like) rocks and set pieces
- The story is very much Dani’s personal journey through this pain—and a relationship film or break-up film as Aster self describes. Pelle (the Swedish student that lures them there) is the only one that connects with Dani. Tells her she deserves a family and is dead right about boyfriend not being there. The lighting change serves her journey and the smile at the end with the music at a crescendo works.
- Aster’s camerawork is cinematic superiority- many tracking shots (the stunner in on the sister’s suicide and quickly after that we get a forward dolly to Christian comforting Dani on the couch and Aster’s camera glides above them to the empty window– winter landscape– and then we get the opening titles)
- – he’s not gliding along with a romantic tracking shot though like Scorsese or Malick—it’s very bracketed and calculated tracking shots– moving along the set frame closer to Wes Anderson say in the beginning of Moonrise Kingdom
- The trip in the car to Sweden – Aster flips the camera upside down— incredible style married to the narrative here as we are going from winter to summer, dark to light, US to Sweden, the sedentary life to this hallucinogenic journey – very much like Ryan Coogler flipping the camera when Michael Jordan takes over in Black Panther or how Kubrick warps the roads at the beginning of The Shining
- Symmetry in the frame with the mise-en-scene—again, like Hereditary’s miniatures work- very Wes Anderson
- Repetition of ritual- synchronized eating—formal detail
- it is relentlessly cinematic- transitions like the edit when Pugh goes from the apartment to opening the door in the airplane bathroom— also the arrangement of bodies in the frame like the 4 guys sitting around the apartment almost like judges eyeing Pugh or the group on drugs with the lone tree
- Clearly influenced by The Wicker Man – and that’s a wonderful film and narrative- but frankly Robin Hardy isn’t half the artist Aster is. I see Bergman’s breakup/relationship battles in Scenes From a Marriage or Shame—the village rituals and underlying evil like Haneke’s White Ribbon, and the pitch black comedic world-building from Lanthimos’ Dogtooth. — the film is funny throughout and I had the hardest laugh I had this year in a movie during the ritualistic sex scene
- Heavy in the folklore and anthropology
- Haxan Cloak score– phenomenal
- Stunning final dissolve edit shot on Pugh and the world we’re in, the fulfillment of her breakup fantasy revenge, and the 180 from the opening winter/depression—we’re smiling in the sun
- An incredibly achievement of ambitious auteur-driven (this enriches and makes Hereditary even better) filmmaking
- I’m blown away by the amount of detail, this is a long film (147 minutes), visually designed to such specificity, another study of the occult, ritualistic, detailed, methodical and anthropological – all just one year after another top 10 of the year quality film
- Each American outsider here is killed by their flaws—greedy, selfish—not a redeeming character in the bunch
- A portrait of a relationship– comparisons to Marriage Story or some of Bergman’s work is inevitable
- Slow turns of the camera, set at angles like Kubrickian tracking shots in The Shining and Paths of Glory
- Gauntlet thrown down to other auteurs in 2019—it is like a defibrillator after a really weak first half of cinema in 2019
- I think the long duration of the film plays to the disorientation and world-building as Aster takes us deeper and deeper into the rituals of the village…
- So in Hereditary Toni Collette’s character is a miniaturist artist— and Aster the director works in miniatures as a formal construct— here—his leads are anthropology students—and Aster as auteur digs in and studies the village in the same way
- The special effects drug-use here give to the Margaret Keane-like “Big Eyes” art– trees swaying in the background
- The best works in horror history work without the scares—the relationship jousting here reminded me of a little of Social Network’s opening, the terrible way John Cassavetes treats Mia Farrow in Rosemary’s Baby, or the effect of the absent father on Linda Blair in The Exorcist. Rosemary’s Baby and The Exorcist both have very long prefaces before the horror shows up just like this.
- The visual design—florals, murals (throughout and in the overture)—such a dedication to an aesthetic
- Aster’s films both feature the occult, based in faces, and child savants/special needs
- Hereditary is tighter— like a sweater that unravels—- this is like a vice tightening— both have fantastic formal payoffs at the end
total archiveable films: 2
top 100 films: 0
top 500 films: 0
top 100 films of the decade: 2 (Hereditary, Midsommar)
most overrated: Nothing for Aster- just two films total and both are underrated (but I think doing well actually)
most underrated : Both are underrated- 10th of 2018 and 11th of 2019 respectively on TSPDT but I’m not deterred. This is a marathon and not a sprint- they’ll rise over time and there’s always a bias against the horror genre.
gem I want to spotlight : Hereditary
- Aster has clearly studied masterpiece horror works from the past. Collette’s character seems inspired by (and it’s an equally great performance) Ellen Burstyn’s turn in The Exorcist, the entire occult read and crowning in the end is unmistakably Rosemary’s Baby and I saw the Milly Shapiro “Charlie” character in the orange sweatshirt went to Roeg’s Don’t Look Now (trademark red slicker in that film but close enough)
- Having said this- Aster has his own voice—and unlike the work of Polanski, Friedkin and Roeg—I see a little of Wes Anderson here in Aster’s work. He’s clearly obsessed with framing and symmetry. I greatly admire the connection with the diorama (obviously that’s Wes) and miniatures. It has real formal implications and connections (is this all artifice?, is it part of the greater statement of Collette’s powers? Her mother? Her family?)
- Aster moves the camera and edits carefully—the blending of the diorama to life in one scene (I’ll look for more with my second viewing). There’s really zero interest in shock or surprise
- It’s legit scary—but the film—like all great horror films—works without the horror. The domestic drama is excellent. Gabriel Byrne is woefully miscast—but Toni Collette more than makes up for it and Alex Wolff, Milly Shapiro and Ann Dowd are strong in support. Collette’s highlight is the initial support group meeting monologue- quite stunning and she should be nominated
- Collette (and Aster for that matter) play it straight. There’s no winking, self-defeating gimmickry—it’s told with a dedication to disturb—it’s detailed and intense (that car sequence)—I think Aster shows a bit more promise behind the camera than Robert Eggers in his equally dedicated horror The Witch from 2015
- love Justin Chang’s review of the sad tale of a family in decline
- opens on a gorgeous shot of the tree-house within the frame of the window frame– stunning- it’s Wes Anderson or– better yet- Renoir– then we have a pan and a tracking shot matching into the miniature
- formal detail- the necklace with the symbol is shown throughout
- family drama- Byrne lies about the cemetery desecration- she lies about going to a movie- this is a family on the fall
- with a second watch I’m definitely blown away by Collette’s group therapy word vomit acting- unnerving- powerful
- lots of use of miniatures as establishing shots
- I’m still not sure if Collette is a sort of puppet master with her work on the miniatures- or if she’s a record keeper- or if its simply an outlet for her
- the allergy/car scene is a well-crafted scene of intensity- the score escalates the action
- Ann Down is a revelation in support- played entirely straight
- shot going below ground as they bury at the funeral- Wes Anderson– heavy use of beautiful wallpaper
- oscillating between miniatures and real action
- The Shining– the maze- is this real?
- Collette’s character has a split personality- “on and off again” with mom which she outlines. There’s pure economy in the script. Schizophrenia.
- old people who all need a living vessel like Rosemary’s Baby or Being John Malkovich
- final sequence of Alex Wolff- unblinking close up with crescendo in the music- “Hail Paiman” like Rosemary’s Baby and then, so formally sound, end with a miniature
- top 5 of the year quality which would make it the best pure horror quite possibly since The Shining
- Family or relationship dramas, death and grieving and a character whose rise to the top of a cult (chilling final close-ups in both films) with a dueling-meaning climax signifying their madness as well
- unlike the work of Polanski, Friedkin and Roeg- masters of horror—I see a little of Wes Anderson here in Aster’s work. He’s clearly obsessed with framing and symmetry. I greatly admire the connection with the diorama (obviously that’s Wes) and miniatures
- the work with lighting in Hereditary is brilliant- especially for a domestic film shot in a suburb and house—but Midsommar’s work in lighting is among the best of the 21st century- juxtaposing washed out whites in the summer with a Fincher/Gordon Willis-like opening
- bracketed/controlled/calculated tracking shots and camera movements- closer to Kubrick/Wes Anderson than Scorsese/Malick
- strong formal work- repetition in the miniatures as establishing shots in Hereditary and the reoccurring tableau shots, synchronization/symmetry and overhead shots in Midsommar
By year and grades
*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
I notice with other directors you have said they may rise up the rankings once the 10 year moratorium is up and start considering their more recent films, while other directors are here whose only archivable films are from the last ten years. Is there a reason for that?
@Declan- yeah for the first 200 slots or so —I tried to do the list as best as possible for films not really looking at the last 10 years for 1-200— and then for 201-250 I started letting those in
I’ve come around on Aster, he truly is one of the best directors of the 2010s. Midsommar and Hereditary are very good
@dylan- happy to hear we’re on the same page here
I watched Hereditary a few weeks ago and thought it was excellent. Astounding debut nearly akin to Badlands. With you on Gabriel Byrne in this movie however, I generally like him but this just wasn’t his movie. Still need to get to Midsommar (both Amazon Prime!) but with you saying it’s even better than Hereditary it must be absolutely extraordinary.
@Zane- happy to hear it– check back in when you get to Midsommar — would love to hear what you think
Have you seen these picks by Ari Aster for the criterion collection? Looks like a big admirer of Polanski and Bergman.
@Malith- I have, this is a great share though. This has some Bergman stuff as well https://a24films.com/notes/2019/07/deep-cuts-with-robert-eggers-and-ari-aster
Beau is Afraid IS here. I liked Disappointment Boulevard more but the trailer looks top notch.
@AP – Just watched this a few minutes ago- and totally agree on the name. This looks crazy. Excited we have a release date