Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Dell's Pointless Lists: David Fincher Movies

Ranking David Fincher Movies

Yesterday, I posted my review of David Fincher's latest cinematic offering, Gone Girl. That means there is no better time than today to take a look at the director's entire filmography. As far as I'm concerned, the man is a brilliant director and I'm hoping with all my heart that he gets through directing the rest of the Dragon Tattoo series. Until that happens, I'll just rank what he's done so far.

Since the release of Gone Girl a few months ago, I've seen a number of list on the very topic we're covering today. On every one of them, this was the lowest ranked movie. I know I can be a bit of a contrarian at times, but the masses are right on this one. The third installment in the famed Alien franchise is Fincher's debut feature and was plagued with production issues. A lot of these had to do with Fincher being overruled by the money people on many of the decisions he tried to make on the film. Well, he's disowned the movie for those very reasons. No need disagreeing with the man. For what it's worth, though, the movie still earned him a Best Director nomination for the Saturn Awards. 

The Game
Though it ranks low on this list, The Game is still a pretty good film. It's elaborately plotted, but Fincher somehow manages to make it all work. One of the key ingredients to Fincher's formula is front and center throughout. That is, a major character who really has no clue what's going on. It's an idea he revisits often. This time, a wonderful Michael Douglas gives a wonderful performance where we can practically see the wheels in his churning, but getting nowhere. 

Panic Room
Right around the turn of the century, with the potential disaster of Y2K looming over us all, panic rooms became a real thing. People who could afford it, really did start building impenetrable rooms in their homes in case of emergency. Who better to exploit the idea than Fincher? He does so in marvelous fashion, keeping us hanging on the edge of our seats praying things will turn out okay. It's a much more physically claustrophobic movie than anything else he's done. Entire cities, or more, usually have profound effects on his work: the bleakness of Chicago, the fear-gripped San Francisco, or even an entire nation glued to its TV sets all come to mind. Here, it's a woman (an excellent Jodie Foster) and her daughter (a pubescent Kristen Stewart) trapped in a single room in their home while bad guys with bad intentions try to figure a way in.

I know, I know, this is ranked awfully low. Hear me out. This time out, Fincher tackles the investigation of the notorious Zodiac killer who terrorized San Francisco in real life during the late 1960s and early 1970s and has never been caught. That never been caught part is tough to fit into a narrative that works as a movie. Fincher gives it his best. In fact for about an hour and a half, he gives us a movie as gripping as anything he's ever put to film. The cast he put together turns in uniformly stellar work and the saga sizzles. Then something happens. Where the real life investigation comes to dead end, so does this movie, yet he stretches it out for another hour of sheer boredom. Watching these people do "regular" things for all that time is not nearly as compelling as them actively trying to stop a serial killer. Fincher redeems himself with a nicely tense final few minutes, but it doesn't save the movie. The whole thing feels like we were cruising along on an incredibly smooth ride, enjoying it from the passenger seat while sipping a latte and having a great conversation with the driver. Then, suddenly, that driver slammed on brakes and sent hot mocha flying everywhere. It gets this high because of the greatness of the first two acts, but I can't put it any higher.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
The case of Benjamin Button is a curious one, indeed. Famously, it's protagonist, played by Brad Pitt, is aging in reverse. He goes on a journey of self discovery and eventually finds love. At first glance, with all of its romance novel leanings, it seems curiously out of place with Fincher's filmography. It's actually based on a short story by the legendary F. Scott Fitzgerald, but is still the sappiest thing Fincher has ever done, by a long shot. However, a closer look reveals that one big ingredient once again. Benjamin Button really has no clue what's going on with him and there is no one around that can legitimately advise him on how to deal with things. Pitt was very good. A trio of ladies in the cast were better. Cate Blanchett and Taraji P. Henson both earned Oscar noms for their work and Tilda Swinton was also great. The film was widely praised in '08 and early '09, getting an Oscar nom for Best Picture and earning Fincher a nomination for Best Director. Curiously, the movie has seemed to fall out of favor a bit, but I still enjoy it quite a bit right through to the ending.

Fight Club
What? This isn't number one? Blasphempy! I really do like this movie. I just don't love it like practically everyone else on the planet seems to. The two-headed monster of Brad Pitt and Edward Norton is quite excellent. So, too, is Helena Bonham Carter. The whole thing is an exploration of self unlike anything else on film. However, like Zodiac the end fizzles a bit for me and strains credibility a bit too much. I know this sounds like a negative reaction to it, but I'm merely trying to point out why I don't have it at the top of the list knowing that this a popular choice for that coveted spot. That said, I owe this movie a rewatch since I haven't seen it in years.

The Social Network
For the second time in his career, Fincher tackles a true story. This time, focuses on the creation of that social media behemoth known as Facebook. Without having seen it, the invention of a website and subsequent arguments about it didn't seem like something that could be at all intriguing. However, I gave it a shot due to Fincher being the director and was rewarded handsomely. He essentially takes "rich kid problems" and crafts them into something both universal and compelling. It's actually a bit of a departure for the director because our protagonist is fully aware of what's going on. In fact, Mark Zuckerberg, played by Jesse Eisenberg, seems to know everything that's going at all times. He's not trying to catch up with anyone, but to stay at least one step ahead of everyone. Fincher snagged a Golden Globe for Best Director. He was nominated for the same award at the Oscars, but didn't win. The film won three other GGs, including Best Motion Picture - Drama. It would also win three Oscars on eight nominations. Eisenberg (nominated for Best Actor), Andrew Garfield (nominated for Best Supporting Actor), and Armie Hammer turn in career-defining work. Many of us also got our first glimpse at Rooney Mara in a brilliant, if brief appearance. Our next look at her was...

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
The news of an American remake of a foreign film (Swedish) barely more than a year old had both "unnecessary" and "disaster" written all over it. Fincher skirted the remake issue by claiming it not to be one, but merely based on the same novel. Okay, fine. I still wasn't sold this needed to exist. However, I decided to give it a go anyway because, well, Fincher. Just as I had only a few months earlier, I followed Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomkvist as they tried to solve a decades old murder on a secluded island owned by a family of rich kooks. Much to my surprise and delight, Fincher took the material and made it his own. It was intriguing and tense all over again. And man, it is such a beautiful film just to look at! From the spectacular title sequence forward, the movie grabs you by the throat and never lets go. Rooney Mara delivers an out of this world performance in the titular role, earning her a Best Actress nomination at the Oscars. The same could be said for Daniel Craig as Mikael, sans the nomination. For my money, his might be the most underappreciated performance in the entire Fincher canon.

Gone Girl
Maybe I'm still stuck in the euphoria of having just recently seen it, but in my opinion Gone Girl is flat out amazing. Fincher's handling of the material is sure-handed even as nothing else about the movie appears certain. The director drops us down a rabbit hole and seems to let us free fall into various chutes which drastically change the direction in which we're going. However, he has us the entire time. When he drops us back into reality, we struggle to shake the experience we just had. For me, that's what great filmmaking does. Of course, I can't say enough about what Rosamund Pike does as the titular "gone girl." She matches the director's brilliance every step of the way. Thankfully, the rest of the cast also does. I'll stop here since I just wrote a full length review on this.

In many ways, the fact that this movie even exists is a miracle. After all, his only other feature at that time was the movie at the bottom of this list. It was an unmitigated disaster. People weren't exactly lining up to work with the director. Fincher, himself, was so turned off by what happened that he really didn't want to make another movie. Then he received the script to Se7en. The rest, as they say, is history. He found the perfect pair of actors in Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman to carry us through an investigation where neither guy really knew what was happening. Sound familiar? The city of Chicago, known for its wind but here oppressively dreary and rain drenched became a foreboding presence looming over the film. I'm not sure Pitt or Freeman has ever been better. I'm fairly certain of that reality for Gwyneth Paltrow as Pitt's wife. And I haven't mentioned a wonderfully subdued R. Lee Ermey or a very creepy Kevin Spacey. Since the moment my first viewing ended in a theater way back in 1995, it's been one of my favorite movies of all time. In only his second outing, David Fincher created his masterpiece.

My full length reviews of David Fincher films:


  1. I have to be in complete agreement with Se7en as your number 1 pick, but also thrilled to see Gone Girl so highly ranked! Great post!

    1. Thanks. Both are stunningly brilliant, far as I'm concerned.

  2. Great list, I definitely agree with Se7en being #1. Personally, I'd stick Benjamin Button at the bottom because I fucking hated that film. lol

    1. Thanks. Would you have B Button even below Alien3?

  3. I ranked The Game last ;-)

    The Social Network is still my #1, such a true masterpiece of film.

    1. Another one showing a little love for Alien3, huh? The Social Network is a wonderful and "important" film so no big argument from me.

  4. What a fantastic post! I have seen most -- but not all -- of these movies. I don't feel the love for Se7en that everyone else seems to. Otherwise, I pretty much agree with the order you chose.

    1. Thanks! Not loving Se7en, huh? It's ok, no one is perfect.

    2. Yes, we all have a few irredeemable flaws. ;-)

      Se7en was an interesting thriller, it just didn't rock my world. It's possible that all the hype diminished the experience for me.

    3. That's very possible. I've had that happen to me for a number of movies.

  5. Awesome post! Fincher is one director who's filmography I need to catch up with. I'm with you on Se7en topping your list, a definite must-watch.

    1. Yes, everyone needs more Fincher. And Se7en is phenomenal. Thanks.

  6. My top 2 is the same but I'm so glad to see the love for Dragon Tattoo which is my 4th after Fight club. It's such an excellent movie and my favorite work by Craig, he was really fantastic in the film and I agree he deserves more love for this performance

    1. Thanks. TGwtDT is phenomenal. Had to put high up on the list.

  7. Solid ranking! I concur with your #8, #9 #10 spots. Fight Club is my favorite Fincher, and probably always will be :) I might have Seven and Gone Girl in 2nd and 3rd, with the rest somewhere in the middle.

    1. Thanks. I suspect lots of people have it your way. That's why I spent much of the entry for FC explaining myself, lol.

  8. Nice list! I still haven't seen The Game, but my own rankings wouldn't be too much different. Hard to top Gone Girl and Se7en as a 1-2 punch.

  9. That's what I'm saying! It's a great 1-2 punch.

  10. Despite Zodiac and Fight Club, I agree with a lot of this list! Love that you have Dragon Tattoo so high, don't know why everyone seems to hate on it now.

    1. I think people hate on Dragon Tattoo because it came out pretty hot on the heels of the Swedish original. Whatever. I'm guessing you would have Zodiac near the top.