Ranked: David Fincher

David Fincher is one of the few directors who I have seen every film of. He’s directed other things like music videos and some episodes of “House of Cards,” but I’m just focusing on the films, especially since he has a new one out, Gone Girl, which thankfully I have seen already, so it doesn’t get left off the list.


10. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

The film is a whimsical fairytale about the fleeting nature of life. Benjamin Button, the title character who ages backwards after being born as an old geezer looking baby, is an odd vessel but gives a unique outlook on the American zeitgeist. It has been an age old saying that youth is wasted on the young, and this film has the opportunity to examine what an old-soul would do with the body of a 20 year old. Ultimately, I think more time is given to what it is like being a child who looks ancient. Despite being full of great performances (especially Brad Pitt) and a lot of Fincher’s usual stylings, it is an unbalanced film. Its slow pacing demands more attention to detail. Or the actual amount of attention it gives its’ details demands a more fleet-footed pace.


9. Panic Room

After a divorced woman (Jodie Foster) buys a rich man’s home, 3 men break in in search of the former resident’s hidden wealth. The woman and her daughter  (Kristen Stewart) hide in a panic room, a fortified secret room. This is a very serviceable movie with very conventional story-telling. That doesn’t mean it is incapable of being thrilling or scary, just that you keep looking for the hook that never comes. Even the acting is pretty serviceable. Most of the characters are tried and true archetypes. Jodie Foster is the only one who tries to escape the very conventional aspects of the storyline. Her quivering fear even when doing things that are very brave and heroic make her character that much more realistic and relatable. Despite all of that, it is not as if Fincher didn’t try to apply some of his extremely cool directorial style to the mix. Their are really interesting special effects that allow for the camera’s ability to walk through walls giving the movie a unique visual representation that lets it stand out from the pack.


8. Alien 3

Everyone has to cut their teeth somewhere. Unfortunate for Fincher, he had to do it on the follow up to one of the most favorable sequels to ever grace the screen. True, Alien 3 is not as smooth as the first Alien or as pulse-pounding as the second, but it is where Fincher first sprung forth: a headier than you would expect drama about coming to terms with one’s own death posing as a blockbuster-ish horror survival movie. 


7. The Game

Nicholas Van Orton (Michael Douglas) is a wealthy banker. Against his better judgment, Van Orton takes a gift from his former drug addict brother (Sean Penn) to participate in a complex game built specifically for him. Fincher starts playing fast and loose with whether the game is fact or fiction. Is it just a game set up for excitement? Or is it a long con from his criminal brother? Either way, it is tailor-made to steal from Van Orton what he holds most dear. His wealth. His vanity. His ego. His secrets. All torn down and revealed to the world. It’s fairly nuanced but can’t shake the B-movie feeling. With an actor like Michael Douglas though, it can definitely drag you in.

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6. Gone Girl

Fincher’s most recent picture adapts Gillian Flynn’s popular novel (with her help on script duties) un-pretzeling a pretty crazy and meta murder mystery. Rosamund Pike plays the titular girl, who goes missing, and all the evidence points to her husband, played by Ben Affleck. Like so many of Fincher’s movies post-Fight Club, it is long and a bit of a chore to get through, but Fincher always has something up his sleeve to reward anyone with enough patience. He rolls out the movie with confidence that the audience will be able to absorb the information never needing it to be over-explained. The whole movie kind of feels like a culmination of Fincher’s career. According to his movies, he seems fascinated with skeletons in closets analyzing relationships and the human condition through the lies that people keep. With Gone Girl, everyone has something to hide and everyone looks guilty. Read the rest of my review here.


5. The Social Network

If you told me that a movie based on the creation of facebook would be one of the best movies of its particular year I would not believe it. Facebook is a pulp culture phenom in the same league as reality television and the fashion integrity of the emo crowd. What it adds to the public consciousness is questionable at best, but the movie runs on all cylinders.At times, it feels like a thriller, and while it never really delivers any thriller genre payoffs, it still somehow leaves you satisfied. Aaron Sorkin’s screenplay is not unlike his tv shows (West Wing, The Newsroom). It is fast talking dialog at the top of its game. It begs to be spoken. It captures the zeitgeist of the multi-communication generation, and how these social networks threaten to tear us apart just as they promise to bring us closer together. 


4. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Fincher’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is an adaptation of a Swedish novel, which also has a pretty high profile Swedish film as well. So, right off the bat, Fincher has big shoes to fill, but this is right in his wheelhouse. When it comes to stylish and plot-heavy thrillers, no one directs them better. His camera work is devoid of anything gimmicky or over-styled, yet in its simplicity, it still feels like it has surgical precision in maximizing the level of thrill and dread from any given scene. Fincher being in his wheelhouse is especially relevant to this movie since his two main characters are very wounded, asocial people who have bursts of confidence when in their own wheelhouses. Daniel Craig’s professional journalist is a charmer when interviewing, but seems to clam up in almost every other social situation. Meanwhile, Rooney Mara’s heavy metal research assistance, Lisbeth Salander, seems to be shielding herself from social situations since computers make more sense to her than people. 

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3. Se7en

Seven is like a punk rock take on the noir genre. It is dirty, bloody, cloudy, and dimly lit. It uses an unapologetic camera to capture this literal filth reveling in it. This tone and setting is navigated by our two detective protagonists. One is Somerset, played by Morgan Freeman. He is an old world-weary and wise detective who is about to retire. The other is rookie Brian Mills, played by a rookie Brad Pitt, bringing a sense of energy and wide-eyed naivete. Some might say that it is unnecessarily gory, but I disagree. Most gore movies are about bleeding, but this movie is very much about having already bled. It is the punctuated shock that makes this movie’s uneasy feeling stand out from the rest. The killer, aptly named John Doe, is a mystery. He isn’t a big reveal or an eccentric Dr. Lector type. He has more in common with the shark from Jaws. You never get a good look until the end. Until then, you only get “yellow barrels.” This is not really a “whodunnit” but rather a “wutsgonnahappennext.”


2. Zodiac

Zodiac proves that David Fincher is a maestro with a camera and script. His ability to set up mood and tone is bar none the best in the business right now. He shoots California much differently than most people would. The happy day sunshine is replaced with sunburnt days and fog covered nights. Based on the real life serial killer, it is by all accounts an actual cop procedural. It is a very labored narrative. It is dense with dates, times, files, and all kinds of other information, but it still completely changes the game. Like Se7en,  instead of being a “whodunnit,” it examines those who become obsessed with whodunnit. I can relate to that. I have stuck with plenty of bad movies and tv shows just to see how it will conclude. I just wanted to know who was the masked man or who was the shadowy figure, usually to pretty unsatisfactory results. Zodiac finishes pretty unsatisfying as well, but it is definitely by design.

Upside down is always more menacing

Upside down is always more menacing

1. Fight Club

 Chuck Palahniuk (the author of the original novel) has admitted that all of his stories are about lonely people trying to reach out. This is very true about Fight Club. This film surmises that the state of men, especially in America, is a sad departure from what it once was. We define ourselves by our possessions; a “he who dies with the most toys win” mentality. Men are motivated by superficial needs which allows them to deal with unfulfilling careers. How men should look and act are marketing manipulations plagued with skinny, hairless, pretty visages. This has led to general femininization of men. All of these things have disconnected us completely from our former prideful, strong, self-sufficient natures. The Narrator (Edward Norton) remains nameless throughout the film. This drives home the idea that he is without his own identity, and he is driven by all of society’s institutions. Enter Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt). He wants to tune men back to nature. He does so through fighting. Those involved in fight club feel reinvigorated and extra motivated seeking their own identities. He wants to symbolically separate them from industry through terrorism.  He is ultimately hypocritical though. When Tyler turns Fight Club into Project: Mayhem he strips the men of their new found identities, the thing he tried to help them get back, through indoctrination of his own self-effacing manifesto.

Why Brad Pitt is the Perfect Choice for Tyler Durden