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Added by johanlefourbe on 6 Sep 2016 10:31
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A Complete Review of Gus Van Sant's work

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Cast : Joaquin Phoenix, Jonah Hill, Rooney Mara, Jack Black

What was it about?
About John Callahan who became a paralyzed after a car accident at age 21, and turned to drawing as a form of therapy.

My two cents:
After the huge critical failure of 'The Sea of Trees' (It is even considered by many as his worst movie so far), Gus Van Sant here made a nice come-back with and this flick was easily his best movie since 'Milk' released already 10 years ago. Still, even though it was indeed an entertaining biopic, it was nothing really amazing, to be honest. I mean, even though Van Sant went for a chaotic and random structure, the whole thing was actually fairly generic and predictable after all. Still, I had never heard of John Callahan before watching this movie, the guy was really interesting and I really appreciate the fact that they kept displaying his work through the whole duration. Eventually, I think I enjoyed mostly the cast involved. Indeed, once again, Joaquin Phoenix completely nailed it and displayed again that he is easily one of the best actors of his generation. On top of that, the rest of the cast was also strong even if their characters were unfortunately barely developed. I was above all impressed by Jonah Hill who I didn't recognize at all and it was only by the sound of his voice that I was able to spot him. Anyway, even though it was nothing ground-breaking, it was still a decent biopic and it is definitely worth a look.

My rating: 07/10

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People who added this item 75 Average listal rating (33 ratings) 5.5 IMDB Rating 6


Cast : Matthew McConaughey, Naomi Watts, Ken Watanabe

What was it about?
A suicidal American befriends a Japanese man lost in a forest near Mt. Fuji and the two search for a way out.

My two cents:
This movie was really poorly received and it was even considered as one of the worst movies displayed at the Cannes Film Festival in 2015. Well, even though it was indeed pretty weak, to be honest, I thought it was not as bad as I expected it to be. The first of all, I had never heard of this place, this Aokigahara forest where almost 100 people go to take their own life every year, and there was something really fascinating about this place. Eventually, the biggest mistake they made was to add some flashbacks. Indeed, even though Naomi Watts and Matthew McConaughey made an attractive couple and even though Naomi Watts gave a solid performance, it would have worked better without these flashbacks which felt rather useless. It didn’t help either that Naomi Watts’s character died in such a seriously ludicrous way. Eventually, the focus should have been set only on this trip in this strange forest. Still, some stuff happening in the forest didn’t always work either (For example, the way they kept scavenging the clothes of some dead people felt seriously awkward). Anyway, even though some called it Van Sant's worst movie, I don't agree, even if I have to admit that the whole thing didn't really work.

My rating: 06/10

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People who added this item 192 Average listal rating (105 ratings) 6.1 IMDB Rating 6.6


Cast : Matt Damon, Frances McDormand, John Krasinski

What was it about?
A salesman for a natural gas company experiences life-changing events after arriving in a small town, where his corporation wants to tap into the available resources.

My two cents:
This movie was actually supposed to be Matt Damon's directing début but, I guess, it wasn't meant to be. Eventually, he still remained to play the lead but Gus Van Sant took over the directing duties. Anyway, even though it really had some potential, even though I really wanted to like it, the whole thing was ultimately rather disappointing. Indeed, at first, it was actually quite subtle and intriguing. Basically, you get introduced to Matt Damon and Frances McDormand’s characters who were both likable and, yet, when you are starting to root for them, it actually turns out that they actually could be the bad guys after all. And that’s when the movie was actually really interesting, maybe they are not the bad guys, maybe they are no bad guys at all, and, as a result, you had a rather complex and subtle view of the world and I was wondering how they would further handle this. Unfortunately, it was pretty much all ruined by the ending. Indeed, they threw a couple of really weak twists and the whole thing unfortunately never recovered from these poor choices. It’s too bad this conclusion was so disappointing because the rest of the movie was pretty decent.

My rating: 06/10

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People who added this item 533 Average listal rating (262 ratings) 6.9 IMDB Rating 6.8
Restless (2011)


Cast : Mia Wasikowska, Henry Hopper

What was it about?
The story of a terminally ill teenage girl who falls for a boy who likes to attend funerals and their encounters with the ghost of a Japanese kamikaze pilot from WWII.

My two cents:
Eventually, even though it was a decent watch, I can’t say it really blow me away though. I guess, the main issue I had is that I already saw recently 2 other movies ('Now is Good' and 'The Fault in Our Stars') with exactly the same story, about a young girl dying of cancer or whatever and how she falls in love. It is actually unfair to this movie since it was actually released before the other 2 but it didn't add much to the genre, I'm afraid. Still, the directing was solid and both leads gave some pretty good performances. I was especially impressed by Mia Wasikowska. It was already the 3rd movie starring her that I have seen recently and after 'Maps to the Stars' and 'Only Lovers Left Alive' and she definitely displayed some skills here again. Coming to our main feature, I did like the characters and the mood provided but the whole thing still felt slightly generic to me.

My rating: 06/10

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People who added this item 2012 Average listal rating (1145 ratings) 7.5 IMDB Rating 7.6


Cast : Sean Penn, Josh Brolin, James Franco, Emile Hirsch, Diego Luna, Alison Pill

What was it about?
The story of Harvey Milk, and his struggles as an American gay activist who fought for gay rights and became California's first openly gay elected official.

My two cents:
To be honest, before watching this movie, I had heard about Harvey Milk but I have to admit that I didn’t know much about the guy so, only for this, it was already an incredibly valuable picture that allowed me to get more acquainted with this fascinating man. Concerning the movie itself, I was expecting something good but I was eventually rather blown away by the whole thing. Sure, you might argue that it was pretty much one of the most straightforward features delivered by Gus Van Sant so far but I thought it worked really well and it has been a while since the guy has directed something that good. Concerning Sean Penn, even though some might think that he actually robbed Mickey Rourke of a well deserved Academy award, I thought he was pretty impressive in this movie and he showed again that he is one of the best actors around.

My rating: 08/10

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People who added this item 715 Average listal rating (390 ratings) 6.7 IMDB Rating 6.7


Cast : Taylor Momsen

What was it about?
A teenage skateboarder's life begins to fray after he is involved in the accidental death of a security guard.

My two cents:
I have noticed that Van Sant usually alternates between mainstream and more experimental projects and this flick definitely belonged to the second group. You either enjoyed those movies or not since they are really slow paced and without a real plot. Personally, I do enjoy those flicks. In this case, the first shot really reminded me of Hitchcock with this ominous music and when I learned about the story, the reference was then quite obvious. Basically, this movie is a mix of, indeed, Hitchcock, 'Crime & Punishment' and some teenage skaters. I thought the whole thing was really beautifully shot and I really enjoyed the performances by the non-professional cast. The end was not really great though but it really fit the rest of the movie though. Anyway, even though it was maybe nothing really groundbreaking, I thought it was pretty good.

My rating: 07/10

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People who added this item 1392 Average listal rating (711 ratings) 7.3 IMDB Rating 7.3


Cast : Marianne Faithfull, Gaspard Ulliel

What was it about?
Through the neighborhoods of Paris, love is veiled, revealed, imitated, sucked dry, reinvented and awakened.

My two cents:
This anthology was pretty good and this little story was not bad, even though it was definitely not one of the best of the bunch. Basically, the tone was pretty neat and Gaspard Ulliel gave a solid performance but the outcome was really obvious from the very beginning. As a result, the whole thing was not as deep as the makers probably wanted it to be. Still, I liked this short nonetheless. On a side-note, pretty much like with the Coen brothers, since this director has made all his movies in the US (with the exception of his last one which was taking place in Japan), I wonder what kind of connection Gus Van Sant actually has with Paris.

My rating: 07/10 (for his segment and for the whole movie)

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People who added this item 601 Average listal rating (285 ratings) 5.7 IMDB Rating 5.8
Last Days (2005)


Cast : Michael Pitt, Lukas Haas, Asia Argento

What was it about?
Introspective artist Blake is buckling under the weight of fame, professional obligations and a mounting feeling of isolation. Many people are looking for Blake--his friends, his managers and record label, even a private detective--but he does not want to be found. In the haze of his final hours, Blake will spend most his time by himself.

My two cents:
Following the amazing 'Elephant' which I really loved, I was definitely eager to check Gus Van Sant's next directing effort. Basically, it was made in the same directing style but it was this time poorly received, by viewers and critics alike. Personally, even though it was definitely not as good as 'Elephant', I thought it was still a solid feature. I just really dig this directing style which make the whole thing quite spellbinding to watch. I guess the issue, this time, was that Van Sant delt with a very famous public figure. I mean, with 'Elephant', we don't know exactly what happened with those guys so it gave a lot of liberty and slack to Van Sant to create his own story with some tremendous results. With this movie dealing with Kurt Cobain, virtually everybody had a meaning about what happened and most of the viewers didn't like his approach at all. Anyway, even though I enjoyed Nirvana's music, I was able to watch the movie without checking every single detail because the purpose, in my opinion, was to give a certain feeling, not some biographical details.

My rating: 07/10

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People who added this item 1754 Average listal rating (1033 ratings) 7.1 IMDB Rating 7.2


Cast : a bunch of unknown actors

What was it about?
Several ordinary high school students go through their daily routine as two others prepare for something more malevolent.

My two cents:
Even though this movie might be an acquired taste, it still managed to win the prestigious Golden Palm at the Cannes Film Festival. Anyway, it really didn’t disappoint me. Indeed, basically, it is quite a shocking story told in a very particular way and you might find this approach rather unappealing but I thought it was in fact actually quite fascinating. I'm pretty sure that many viewers would find this movie frustrating because, while watching this, you have so many questions coming up in your mind but, eventually, no real answer at all is provided by this movie. Personally, I really loved the fact that you had to think about the movie and the events themselves on your own to find yourself the answers. I have to admit it though, the whole thing was terribly cold and distant (a little bit like Michael Haneke’s work as a matter of fact) so it is not for everyone but, eventually, I thought it was a really fascinating flick.

My rating: 08/10

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People who added this item 282 Average listal rating (139 ratings) 6.2 IMDB Rating 6.2
Gerry (2002)


Cast : Matt Damon, Casey Affleck

What was it about?
A friendship between two young men is tested when they go for a hike in a desert and forget to bring any water or food with them.

My two cents:
5 years after 'Good Will Hunting', Gus Van Sant and Matt Damon were reunited and this time, Ben’s little brother, Casey Affleck, joined the party. Personally, I never really cared for Van Sant’s more commercial outings but this flick definitely belonged to his more experimental work and that was most welcome. Indeed, in the whole movie, you just have Matt Damon and Casey Affleck wandering in a desert, talking about everyday stuff. It may sound lame but I found it rather fascinating. Indeed, both actors delivered some really strong performances and I’m a sucker for Van Sant’s understated directing style. Unfortunately, since there was no plot and no other characters to interact and even though the whole thing was really intriguing, it felt also rather empty and the ending was downright disappointing. Indeed, it came seriously out of nowhere and it was as if the makers tried to force some meaning on the proceedings but it didn’t work, at least, for me. Anyway, even though the whole thing was rather flawed, it still think it is a really interesting experimental feature.

My rating: 06/10

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People who added this item 885 Average listal rating (541 ratings) 6.8 IMDB Rating 7.3


Cast : Sean Connery, Anna Paquin, Busta Rhymes, Michael Pitt

What was it about?
A young writing prodigy finds a mentor in a reclusive author.

My two cents:
Following the massive critic failure generated by the ‘Psycho’ remake, Gus Van Sant came back to something similar to ‘Good Will Hunting’ which was something much safer but also much more boring in my opinion. In fact, I have always been amazed by the fact that no one has ever really pointed out how almost identical it was to ‘Good Will Hunting’. Anyway, as a result, I never really cared for this movie. The fact that I always thought that ‘Good Will Hunting’ was seriously overrated didn’t help either, I guess. Still, I have to admit it, in this genre, it was a decent watch and Sean Connery and Rob Brown had together a nice chemistry. Furthermore, to be honest, I have to admit that it has been a while since I have seen this movie and I should probably give it a 2nd chance at some point. After this movie, Van Sant went for something more experimental with ‘Gerry’ and, even though it didn’t really work out, it was much more interesting than this rather pedestrian and predictable feature. Anyway, even though I think this movie is rather overrated, it is still a decent drama.

My rating: 06/10

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People who added this item 977 Average listal rating (581 ratings) 4.8 IMDB Rating 4.6


Cast : Vince Vaughn, Anne Heche, Julianne Moore, Viggo Mortensen, William H. Macy, Robert Forster

What was it about?
A young female embezzler arrives at the Bates Motel, which has terrible secrets of its own.

My two cents:
After delivering his most popular movie so far, Gus Van Sant managed to deliver his least popular directing effort. Well, to be honest, even though it might sound surprising, I thought it was actually not bad at all. It probably helped that I haven’t watched the original for ages at the time but it is and remains a really entertaining and fascinating story. Of course, Vince Vaughn was not as impressive as Anthony Perkins was but I think he did a decent job but the best actor was ultimately William H. Macy who gave here a very good performance. Eventually, the only real flaw in my opinion was that you could figure out what was going with Norman Bates too easily. A part from that, the movie was actually rather enjoyable and even though I am obviously in the minority, I think it was a rather interesting experiment.

My rating: 06/10

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Cast : Matt Damon, Robin Williams, Ben Affleck, Stellan Skarsgård, Minnie Driver, Casey Affleck

What was it about?
Will Hunting, a janitor at M.I.T., has a gift for mathematics, but needs help from a psychologist to find direction in his life.

My two cents:
Personally, I never understood what was the fuss about this flick and I think it is in fact one of the most overrated feature ever made. Basically, it is just a really standard inspirational drama, no more no less, and it must be the most straightforward movie ever directed by Gus Van Sant (unsurprisingly, it has been his most successful movie at the box-office so far). Take for example Robin Williams, the guy won an Academy award for his performance when, in fact, even though he did a decent job, it was just the typical gimmick he gives in all his dramas. Concerning Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, they were actually pretty good and I liked how conflicted Will Hunting was but it wasn’t enough to make this movie really fascinating. I mean, I have to admit it, it remains a well made drama but the whole thing was just way too predictable and pedestrian for my taste.

My rating: 6/10

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People who added this item 630 Average listal rating (364 ratings) 6.3 IMDB Rating 6.8


Cast : Nicole Kidman, Matt Dillon, Joaquin Phoenix, Casey Affleck

What was it about?
Suzanne Stone is an aspiring TV personality who will do anything to be in the spotlight, including enlisting three teenagers to kill her husband.

My two cents:
It is difficult to imagine it but, for many years, Nicole Kidman was only known as being Tom Cruise’s wife. Eventually, she turned out to be one of the most praised actresses of her generation. In fact, many people forgot it but it was with this movie that Nicole Kidman finally proved that she could actually act. I remember it very well, I even saw it in the movie theater when it was released (it reminds me that I should re-watch it at some point) and I thought it was a really cool movie. Indeed, the story was really entertaining with a lot of dark humor and Kidman finally displayed some major acting skills here. Indeed, it is pretty tricky to create a rather unlikable character who still has to be entertaining or interesting to follow, otherwise, you will loose your audience but I thought she definitely nailed it. Eventually, 4 years later, she would show up in ‘Eyes Wide Shut’, the final directing effort by the almighty Stanley Kubrick, and her acting career would be really launched for good.

My rating: 08/10

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Cast : Uma Thurman, Lorraine Bracco, Pat Morita, Angie Dickinson, Keanu Reeves, John Hurt, Rain Phoenix, Sean Young, Crispin Glover, Roseanne Barr, Heather Graham, Udo Kier

What was it about?
Sissy Hankshaw is born with enormous thumbs that help her hitchhiking through the US from a young age. She becomes a model in advertising and her NY agent 'the Countess' sends her to his ranch in CA to shoot a commercial, set against the background of mating whooping cranes.

My two cents:
I have noticed that many critics have said that 'The Sea of Trees' was the worst movie directed by Gus Van Sant but I really don't agree. Indeed, this movie is easily by far his worst directing effort. In fact, I remember it quite well, when it was released, it was really trashed by the critics. Anyway, basically, the whole thing was some kind of weird supposedly quirky indie comedy but it was never entertaining or intriguing to watch. Obviously, it was filled up with some rather weird characters but none of them had something really interesting to tell. I mean, right from the start, the concept of this girl with some huge thumbs going hitchhiking for years was seriously misguided and completely underwhelming. At least, back in those days, Uma Thurman really looked quite stunning and she was probably one of the most promising actresses at work at the time but this movie would be one of the first really bad decision she made, something that would keep occurring in her career time and time again.

My rating: 04/10

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Cast : River Phoenix, Keanu Reeves, Udo Kier

What was it about?
Two best friends living on the streets of Portland as hustlers embark on a journey of self discovery and find their relationship stumbling along the way.

My two cents:
Basically, it is one of those movies that I saw as a teenager which just had some huge impact on me. I mean, back in those days, I was already fascinated by movies but I hadn’t watch so many great movies yet so I was basically a blank page, ready to absorb pretty much anything. Anyway, I had never seen anything like this before and, at the time, I thought the whole thing was quite mesmerizing to behold. Through the years, I always enjoyed Gus van Sant's work and it must be one of his most typical movies. Concerning Keanu Reeves, even if you like it or not, he will keep a steady career ever since showing up in such massive classics like ‘The Matrix’ or some more dubious choices like ‘Chain Reaction’. Above all, this movie would be always linked to River Phoenix, one of the most highly regarded young actors of his generation who would die just a couple of years after this movie.

My rating: 08/10

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Cast : Matt Dillon, Kelly Lynch, Heather Graham

What was it about?
A pharmacy-robbing dope fiend and his crew pop pills and evade the law.

My two cents:
In my opinion, Van San's best movie was actually this flick, his sophomore directing effort. To be honest, it has been a while since I saw it and it probably needs a re-watch but, back then, I thought it was quite amazing and one of the best movies dealing with drug addiction. At the time, Matt Dillon was one of the leading actors of his generation and he was really good in this (apparently, Dillon cites this film as his personal favorite of all the films he's done and I have to agree with him). It is seriously a dark and rather ominous affair and when William S. Burroughs shows up on the screen playing a junky priest, it becomes even quite surrealist. The only critic I would have is that Matt Dillon and Kelly Lynch might look too good to be some massive junkies but, on the other hand, you could argue that they had been hooked only for a few years. Anyway, in my opinion, it is one of the great forgotten classics of the 80’s.

My rating: 09/10

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People who added this item 123 Average listal rating (49 ratings) 6.5 IMDB Rating 6.7
Mala Noche (1986)


Cast : a bunch of unknown actors

What was it about?
Walt is madly in love/lust with a young illegal Mexican immigrant. However, the object of his unrequited affection doesn't even speak any English and finds Walt really strange and undesirable.

My two cents:
Basically, like many other American directors like David Lynch or Kevin Smith, Van Sant made also his first movie on a shoestring budget (apparently, around 25000 dollars). Anyway, eventually, I thought it was a decent watch, in my opinion, it was still pretty much a warm-up for some better things to come. Indeed, the whole thing was really short (barely 70 mins) and pretty much half of it was dealing with the characters just wandering around without doing much or saying much. And yet, I still liked the damned thing. Indeed, I thought it was visually pretty neat , some nice black-and-white photography with a lot of darkness and it reminded me of John Cassavetes's work. Furthermore, this emotion displayed, some kind of melancholy as the result of the doomnesss of love, was quite fascinating and it would become one of the most enduring trademarks in Gus Van Sant's work.

My rating: 07/10

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Since I have finally managed to watch all the movies directed by Gus Van Sant, I thought I should make one of these lists for this director as well.

Enjoy!


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A Complete Review of various directors' work (53 lists)
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