THE BEST Film Essays

The Tone and Style of Stranger Things

The Tone and Style of Stranger Things

There’s no question that people love Stranger Things. But what is it about the Netflix series’ mix of sci-fi, horror, and ’80s coming-of-age flicks that make it work so well? Michael Tucker from Lessons from the Screenplay delves into some of the audio and visual tricks the Duffer Brothers have used to create such a magical blend.

Using Cuts as a Visual Effect

Using Cuts as a Visual Effect

(PG-13: Gore) From greenscreen to miniatures to CGI, there are lots of different ways to produce visual effects. Filmmaker and essayist David F. Sandberg reminds us how simple edits can be one of the most effective ways to create illusions on screen and to integrate disparate elements to create a cohesive effect.

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The Three Color Rule

The Three Color Rule

It may seem like a subtle artistic choice at first, but some of the best movie scenes take advantage of a principle known as the “Three Color Rule.” Film essayist wolfcrow explains how this simple color theory can help to set a mood and create focus, and how you can apply it in your cinematic projects.

The Rules (Guidelines) of Adventure

The Rules (Guidelines) of Adventure

The Pirates of the Caribbean movies are packed with adventure and thrills. Lessons from the Screenplay jumps into the ocean with Jack Sparrow and company for a deep dive into what made Curse of the Black Pearl work so exceptionally, both following adventure movie structures and traditions and surprising us at times.

Costume Design 101

Costume Design 101

Film Radar made this great video about wardrobe design in film and TV. Good costume designers inhabit the minds of both the characters and the director. In terms of production, costumes are often custom made, even for extras, and may have multiple replicas.

Animation Is All About The Walk

Animation Is All About The Walk

The Royal Ocean Film Society gathered snippets from animation experts that point out the importance of walking in cartoons. We can learn a lot about a character – even a live one – by their walk, and changing even one element of it can drastically change the character.

The Transformation of Robert De Niro

The Transformation of Robert De Niro

There’s no question that Robert De Niro is one of acting’s all-time greats, having portrayed everyone from the sociopathic Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver to the cat-loving Dad in Meet the Parents over the course of his career. Luís Azevedo put together a great retrospective of his many characters and looks in this clip for Little White Lies.

Moonrise Kingdom vs. Peter Pan

Moonrise Kingdom vs. Peter Pan

There’s no question that filmmakers often reference other films in their works. Film scholar Yaron Baruch demonstrates just how true that is for Wes Anderson in this side-by-side comparison of footage from Moonrise Kingdom and Walt Disney’s animated version of Peter Pan.

Beware the Fluffy Pen

Beware the Fluffy Pen

(PG-13) We already know how oranges can indicate impending doom in movies, but we had no idea that fluffy pens were so symbolic. Little White Lies and editor Luís Azevedo delve into the ways in which these writing instruments have served to drive home a point for the strong women who use them on screen.

Wes After Animation

Wes After Animation

(PG-13) Wes Anderson has always had a very precise and fastidious aesthetic. But after making Fantastic Mr. Fox, his style changed in ways that made his subsequent movies even more magical. The Discarded Image and Beyond The Frame teamed up to explore how his stop-motion learnings affected even Anderson’s live-action films.

The Life and Death of 3D

The Life and Death of 3D

(PG-13: Language) After a period of popularity in the 1950s, 3D movies all but vanished. Then, the gimmick made a huge comeback in the 2000s, even invading TV sets. Then, as quickly as it peaked, the boom was over. The Royal Ocean Film Society explores the history of 3D cinema, and what causes it to fail every time.

Joker: The References

Joker: The References

We all know that Joker was in many ways inspired by Martin Scorsese’s The King of Comedy. But as Jared of Wisecrack points out, there were many other references to 1970s and 1980s movies woven in. The cynicism of the era served as a perfect source of inspiration for Todd Phillips’ dark masterpiece.

The Troubles with Darkness in Horror

The Troubles with Darkness in Horror

It’s tough to make a really scary movie or TV show without shadows for creepy things to hide in. But as filmmaker David F. Sandberg explains, it’s not always the easiest thing to film dark scenes and have them come off as realistic, while still being visible on everything from projection screens to smartphone displays.

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Why Miyazaki’s Animation Feels Alive

Why Miyazaki’s Animation Feels Alive

There’s so much to love about the style, stories, creatures, and characters in Hayao Miyazaki’s catalog of animated films. But what is it about these artful pieces of cinema that make them so dear to us? Kaptain Kristian digs into how Studio Ghibli breathes such life into every frame.

Hollywood Went to the Moon First

Hollywood Went to the Moon First

More than five decades ago, NASA landed the first humans ever on the moon. But prior to the 1969 Apollo 11 mission, Hollywood took us there thanks to a heaping helping of imagination and movie magic. The Royal Ocean Film Society looks back at some of these early examples of science fiction films.

Little Horrors: Gremlins

Little Horrors: Gremlins

Joe Dante’s 1984 Gremlins is a classic popcorn flick, packed with offbeat humor, gross-out gags, memorable monsters, and its share of charming moments. But In Praise of Shadows thinks it’s much more, establishing a whole new direction for how little creatures have been treated in horror and fantasy films ever since.

Destroying Wacker Drive

Destroying Wacker Drive

The area along Wacker Drive near State Street is one of Chicago’s most architecturally significant and iconic locales. Perhaps that’s why Hollywood loves to destroy it over and over again. The A.V. Club looks at some of the many movies which made a mess of the place.

Gene Wilder: Master of Pauses

Gene Wilder: Master of Pauses

Gene Wilder was one of the best comedic actors of all time. With performances in films like Blazing Saddles, Young Frankenstein, and The Producers, his timing and pacing of his speech are still unequaled. Editor Rishi Kaneria and Raging Cinema Extras present some of those perfect moments, minus Willy Wonka.

Hayao Miyazaki’s Airships

Hayao Miyazaki’s Airships

There’s a whole lot to love about the visuals and storytelling in Hayao Miyazaki’s films. Among his regular subjects are flying machines, and The Royal Ocean Film Society takes to the skies to find out why they’re a recurring theme, and why aircraft are so important to this master of anime.

A History of The Joker

A History of The Joker

While audiences are abuzz about Joaquin Phoenix’s take on The Joker’s origin story, The Take looks back at some of the many versions of the Clown Prince of Crime over the years. Each interpretation may be very different, but they all share a love of anarchy, a warped sense of humor, and a terrifying grin.

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The Kubrick Close-Up

The Kubrick Close-Up

(PG-13) Film essayist The Discarded Image explores one of director Stanley Kubrick’s many techniques – the strategic use of tight shots to accentuate a character or story’s most pivotal moments. While most directors use close-ups, Kubrick was a true master of this primitive filmmaker’s tool.

The Weird Wisdom of Beetlejuice

The Weird Wisdom of Beetlejuice

If you can believe it, it’s been 30 years since Beetlejuice first came out. ScreenPrism looks back at one of Tim Burton’s most memorable films, and how it defied genres like horror, comedy, and teen films to go its own way, leaving a long-lasting impact.

Every 1999 Movie Is the Same

Every 1999 Movie Is the Same

Film essayist Now You See It looks back at the end of the 20th century, and how many of the movies of 1999 seemed to have a consistent theme running through many of them. He dubbed it “The Year of the Cubicle Movie,” with films like Office Space, Fight Club, and The Matrix leading up his theory.

Rango: A Bizarre Masterpiece

Rango: A Bizarre Masterpiece

(Spoilers) If you’ve never seen Rango, drop what you’re doing and stream it now. It’s honestly one of our favorite animated movies ever. Film essayist Josh Keefe looks at Gore Verbinski and Johnny Depp’s underappreciated western, and how its genre-bending and aesthetic imperfections helped make it so damned great.

Sound Design: Lying to Your Ears

Sound Design: Lying to Your Ears

Now You See It points out how great sound design in movies doesn’t just mean creating realistic or believable sounds. The right sound reflects or amplifies a character, the emotion behind a scene, and even the theme of the movie itself.

Minority Report: Dismantling Precrime

Minority Report: Dismantling Precrime

Lessons from the Screenplay points out the strengths of Minority Report. The film makes exposition dramatic by adding conflict, makes the sci-fi parts believable by adding a personal stake, and makes the world more than just a setting by making it the antagonist.

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