Thursday, 27 January 2011

Encore Awards: Openings

Openings set the tone of the film; that much is obvious. Sometimes directors are able to use an effective opening and keep up the film in the same register – sometimes after a brilliant opening the rest of the film fails. A good film doesn’t need to have a good opening, gun to my head some the best openings of all time would be The Philadelphia Story – Cary and Kate’s silent spousal abuse. Last year my favourite opening was from Tony Gilroy’s very underrated comedy-thriller Duplicity which still thrills me whenever I think about the fun smartness of Duplicity (something that was lacking this year in film – no In the Loop, no Fantastic Mr. Fox). We had some great openings this year, and although none strike me as rich as Gilroy’s –they were quite brilliant in their own rite.

(Click on photos for reviews.)

Black Swan directed by Darren Aronofsky starring Natalie Portman, Vincent Cassell, Mila Kunis, Barbara Hershey, Winona Ryder
In actuality I can’t say that in terms of necessity the opening really establishes anything, but it’s still gorgeous to watch. Perhaps, if I think closely the same preposterous sort of extraneousness that pervades the film begins here with this arresting but strange number. It works well in the context that turns Nina into a bit of a soothsayer, because she knows she’s going to be destroyed even before she really does know. It’s that sort of bizarreness that defines the film, throughout.

Brooklyn’s Finest directed by Antoine Fuqua starring Ethan Hawke, Richard Gere, Don Cheadle, Wesley Snipes, Jesse Williams
Vincent D’onforio’s cameo is a nice asset here, and this opening scene is one of Ethan’s finest. It’s the encapsulation of an antihero who’s side we can’t help but be on even when we know we shouldn’t. In a way, it sort of establishes one of the faults with Fuqua’s latest because he’s so very much intent on shocking us – but it works here, because in a few moments he establishes the desperation of (one of) our protagonists.

For Colored Girls directed by Tyler Perry with Kimberley Elise, Kerry Washington, Loretta Devine, Thandie Newton, Anika Noni Rose
Functionality aside, it’s the most beautiful opening of the year – it uses its dialogue as effectively as The Social Network, the cuts to the dancing are as beautiful as in Black Swan and the use of music is as striking as in The Deathly Hallows. But, it’s not just extraneous beauty – it’s making a point, too; it’s probably the sole portion where the stage conceits translate brilliantly to film. Yes, the film does dip in quality afterwards, but that doesn’t make it any less lovely.
Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows directed by David Yates with Daniel Radcliffe,Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Alan Rickman, Helena Bonham Carter
The film never reaches the quiet profundity of the opening again, which is a shame because that opening really is lovely. It’s one of the few times where creative team actually decides to do something original instead of adapting the book meticulously (to a fault). The score, the cinematography, and just the tired looks of the characters – it all just works, and in just a few short takes establishes the current situation.
The Social Network directed by David Fincher with Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield, Justin Timberlake, Armie Hammer, Rashida Jones
At its best social network sites are about communication, and it’s not incidental that communication is a significant facet of The Social Network. Sorkin’s dialogue emerges as the obvious reason for this opening working, but there’s also much that’s not being said that’s being conveyed through the actors. I don’t find Mara as flawless as her biggest fans but she creates Erica not only in the context of Mark, but as someone both impressed and exasperated by his tics, so that we see the breakup coming before it does. (And of course the editing is flawless.
FINALIST: From the first moments of screen time I sort of fall in love with Scott Pilgrim vs the World.We’re immediately thrust into the madness of that mysterious place – Ontario, Canada; and it’s just so damned eclectic and arresting you can’t help but be charmed.

SEMI-FINALISTS: The American opens so subtly and even when that key surprise moment happens it’s still going along placidly. It’s the sort of minimalist approach that makes it laudable – even if I don’t love it; that long sequence that opens The King’s Speech seems a bit extraneous, but it’s one of those little things that I appreciate about what Hooper does with the story – never going where you’d expect to him to; Scorsese does some things that seem unlike his usual fare in Shutter Island and that opening is so obvious – but considering what comes after you have to think that that might be his point.

HONOURABLE MENTIONS: Get Low; Rabbit Hole; Somewhere; The Town
Which film this last year hooked you from its opening?


Walter L. Hollmann said...

I am so happy For Colored Girls got the silver medal! Under-appreciated, though for good reason. The opening, music and dialogue complete, is on the soundtrack. Love it.

I might swap out Brooklyn's Finest for Scott Pilgrim, but mostly because I haven't seen the former. I'd try to fit I Am Love in there, too, if just for the use of John Adams' music against the ice-cold locations.

Luke said...

Some very bold choices here, which I'm loving - Harry Potter and For Colored Girls in particular. They both had plentiful flaws to be sure, but way to recognize the brilliance of those openings. The whole Obliviate scene in Harry Potter is easily the best part of the film.

MovieNut14 said...

I love the opening for The Social Network. The dialogue reminded me of a 1940's movie.

TomS said...

The lush color and design of "I Am Love" drew me right in...and some of the fellows in the cast kept me there!
Also...the high-spirited skateboard opening, "The Kids are All Right".

Robert said...

Of course, fantastic choices. Social Network is easily the best, though Black Swan, Scott Pilgrim and Rabbit Hole are also fantastic openers. Good call on Harry Potter as well, that was a surprisingly fantastic start to the film. It really showcased Emma Watson nicely.

Dan said...

Excellent article Encore. Some very interesting thoughts on opening sequences. I too often give them little or no credit in my reviews.

One that sticks out is Dante's The Burbs when he zooms in from space on to the little cul-de-sac where the story takes place. Contact is similar - but opposite, as the camera moves away from earth and we hear radio signals that become older and older.

Nicholas Prigge said...

That Social Network opening is pretty tough to beat. I really liked the opening shot in Animal Kingdom, too, which sets the tone of the film and the protagonist's psyche so well.

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

ugh, both walter and tom are talking about i am love which i have not seen - which sucks, because i want to see a tilda movie i love so i can finally love her as much as everyone else. aargh.

luke YES, that moment in harry potter was so good, they sort of prepped me for something which wasn't as good as the ending suggested. but i'm a diehard nonetheless. sort of.

anna sorkin is a genius (see: the west wing)

rob yup, emma has rarely been as interesting as she was in this installment.

dan i should see that. sigh.

nicholas i considered the animal kingdom one actually. shame that frecheville isn't getting recognised for his work - what a debut performance.

anahita said...

absolutely agree - the openings to black swan and harry potter were possibly the best parts of the films xx