Part of The 100 Greatest Movies I’ve Ever Seen list.
The Tree of Life
dir. Terrence Malick scr. Terrence Malick cin. Emmanuel Lubezki with Brad Pitt, Sean Penn, Jessica Chastain, Tye Sheridan
In 100 words: Doubtlessly the most ambitious movie on this list, Malick’s magnum opus portrays life from the birth of the universe to the imagined afterlife, framed around the childhood memories of a character. Lubezki’s stunning camera weaves and moves with such effortless grace, synching with Malick’s rhythm to produce some of the most beautiful images in history. The visual elegance is paired with such uncommon tenderness found in those childhood scenes, and the stirring and operatic grandeur of those universe scenes, while the narration’s spiritual yearnings resonate deeply. It’s a lovely portrait of life, spiritual but never solemn, precious but not cuddly.
Other Movies for Context: Spiritually rich and elegant, this is Malick at his most Malickian without pushing towards caricature. His most recent efforts mimic this film’s transcendental style but they’re pale imitations of this. His The Thin Red Line (1998) feels closest in terms of depth and spirituality but married to a war movie. I think of Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter…Spring (2004) by Kim Ki-duk because they push the boundaries of their director’s spiritual yearnings, while offering a magnificent take on the life cycle. Similarly, but to more boring effect, Why Has Bodhi Dharma Left for the East? (1989) by Bae Yong-gyun, takes on the spiritual resonance found in life, without the grandness of either two films mentioned earlier.
Part of The 100 Greatest Movies I’ve Ever Seen list
Days of Heaven
dir. Terrence Malick scr. Terrence Malick cin. Nelson Almendros and Haskell Wexler with Richard Gere, Brooke Adams, Sam Shepard, and Linda Manz
In 100 words: This is possibly the most gorgeous movie I’ve ever seen: its painterly images capture a rustic America best preserved by famous works of art. The film’s narration adds weight to its simplistic story: Linda’s voiceover provides a wistful commentary that helps explain the logic of Malick’s editing and sensual visual rhythm— the quick cuts between people, actions, and then to nature and animals capture the feeling of recollecting memories. These superb images are matched by the gorgeous sounds by Morricone, which combined classical and modernist music that evoked the melancholy of the era. Frequent imitations serve to highlight its mastery.
Other Movies for Context: This movie is super iconic and Malick’s style, which he truly owned and formulated in this movie, has frequently been imitated but never truly and fully captured, even by Malick again. Badlands (1973), his debut movie, is closest to this film’s story, with a similar lovers on a run plot. But think of any “independent” movies after this, and most likely they’ll have some similarity to this. Personally, I think of Daughters of the Dust (1991), Julie Dash’s impeccably lyrical take on the Gulah people of South Carolina, David Lowery’s Ain’t Them Bodies Saints (2013), which basically captures the spirit of the movie, but on a lesser note, and even American Honey (2016), which feels similarly attuned to its characters’ mental states as they roam around America.