Genre Wiki Wednesdays: Volume 2 – Animation

Animated films are near and dear to me if only for the obvious reason that I grew up with them. While innumerable Disney benchmarks sparked and sustained my interest, the progression of animated cinema into the realm of the more technically proficient was (and still is) astonishing. It goes without saying that both DreamWorks and Pixar, the latter more often than not, have set the standard for contemporary animated films and continue to blaze a trail via their increasingly awe-inspiring visual prowess.

Barring evolutionary perks, the genre itself is one collective labor of love – each massive collaborative effort after the next requiring varying skill sets and undying devotion to the tasks at hand. Although visibly part of the medium, glaringly vapid cash grabs have recently come out of the woodwork to fill a theatrical void, more specifically one defined by a particular month’s lack of family-centric fare. What ensues are financial success stories devoid of memorability – an inherent quality of the discernible classics that still hold up to this day. Even still, domestic and foreign forays into this frequently fantastical sect of cinema are often dramatic, heartfelt and immersive in their lush illustrations of the worlds they build.

Anime

Japanese animation, popularly and widely known as “anime,” isn’t so much a cult phenomenon as it is a wholly unique branch of animated filmmaking. As can be assumed, Japanese culture varies wildly from our own and in turn produced this art form near the start of the 20th century. Sporting wholly unique characteristics, projects in this vein are easily discernible and admirable as such, the reach of their influence spanning the breadth of the entire world and becoming more popular over time.

While studios like FUNimation are responsible for the distribution and maintaining of popularity of many a popular television series here in the states, it’s the acclaimed Hayao Miyazaki’s brainchild Studio Ghibli that’s struck a chord and stuck with people of my generation for decades. Pairing a recognizably captivating art style that’s obviously influenced by but still strays from the typical, Miyazaki and company’s uncanny ability to pair high fantasy with palpable human emotion is unparalleled – films like My Neighbor Totoro and Spirited Away remaining lauded for their central characters, iconic creatures and ingenious genre-melding tendencies.

Other filmmakers like Mamoru Hosoda (The Girl Who Leapt Through Time) and Makoto Shinkai (5 Centimeters per Second) possess similar tendencies, the former’s efforts leaving a lasting if appropriately soul-crushing impression on me personally. While not particularly familiar with anime’s wide-reaching and ever-expanding hold on the realm of pop culture, I look only to further my knowledge of this universe as I continue to discover and visit its more pivotal contributions.

Fantasy

My aforementioned affinity for my youth’s simpler pleasures is assuredly shared by many – Disney’s earlier and more recent offerings falling snugly into this broad but easily identifiable niche of animated filmmaking. As pieces of lovable, moreover pure and unfiltered escapism, I found myself watching films like The Little Mermaid, The Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin and The Lion King unfailingly, prompting my mother to pop one of many VHS selections into the VCR when able, my attention rarely faltering as I remained captivated for the next ninety or so minutes. Still retaining their charm to this day, it’s incredible to witness these overly competent blends of unfettered artistic vision and emotional gratification, some films’ ability to lightly address certain sects of human history serving as added treats.

While more recent three-dimensional efforts have broken onto the scene, employing their visual merits admirably enough, it goes without saying that family fare nowadays varies wildly in quality as I briefly touched upon with the introductory paragraphs. Even still, the labor-intensive, technically superior successors to their charming forefathers are all marvels to behold despite some being recognizably better (and more well-intentioned) than others. This aside – and on a closing note – animated cinema is important, plain and simple. It at once celebrates film as a literal art form while capitalizing on the true talents behind the tools of the trade, the medium itself remaining far from dated as advancing technology exists to serve these individuals better over time.

Click here for a graphic displaying my favorites from these two subgenres.

Genre Wiki Wednesdays: Volume 1 – Action

The action genre – being the most broad of all – proved itself to be a more difficult undertaking than initially anticipated. For one, some of my favorite actioners of years past have inherently belonged to one genre that more specifically defines them. Take for example this year’s Oblivion. While noticeably imperfect, the film is ostensibly grounded in an alternate, moreover dystopian sci-fi universe, the lead character using heavy firepower as a means of completing a universe-centric string of tasks. This in mind, Oblivion – at least to me – is primarily a science fiction effort laced with a necessary focus on action elements.

The same thing goes for films based on science fiction mediums, much like Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of 2002’s Minority Report, of which was based off of a Philip K. Dick short story of the same title. This aside, I’ve decided to stick with more basic, contemporary definitions of the action genre despite some films’ slight propensity to fall into the dramatic spectrum. In other words, things frequently go boom as events play out in an intelligent, sometimes emotionally satisfying matter.

Adventure and Superhero

Relatively self-explanatory with the latter becoming ever-popular as of late, action-adventure films pride themselves on a sense of discovery through the very mention of the word “adventure.” Whether it’s a tangible discovery or an internal evolving or maturation, these films merely incorporate a slightly meatier focus on their action-oriented elements amid the journey at-hand, taking the viewer along for the ride via pure immersion.

As for comic book/superhero films, the same goes for origins stories and the inherent world-building attributes they possess, the most recent example of which is Joss Whedon’s The Avengers. From film to film, Marvel’s churned out a surprisingly gratifying series culminating in one of the highest grossing productions to date, Whedon’s ability to pack all of these heroes into one big-budget, intelligently humorous moreover thrilling extravaganza remaining super impressive. Naturally, and throughout the course of several films, we’ve journeyed along with these heroes – matured even – from their individual bouts of self-discovery regarding purpose to teaming up to battle an intergalactic menace. If these cinematic experiences don’t instill a sense of adventure in viewer, I don’t know what does.

Comedy

Action-laced comedies presumably walk a tricky thematic and tonal tightrope, as those aiming to produce them must be able to distinguish between what’s serviceable and what isn’t. Put plainly, would you rather a string of increasingly lamebrained buddy comedies (Rush Hour) or those of recognizable poise (Hot Fuzz). Being on polar opposite sides of the quality spectrum (in my opinion), the two examples I’ve provided vary wildly in terms of their approach.

Regarding the former’s behalf, director Brett Ratner’s inclination to exploit his leads’ respective skill sets trumps nearly all semblance of valued narrative intelligence. In the case of Edgar Wright’s Hot Fuzz, the director is clearly familiar with the varying tropes of comedies of this stature, coupling an effective sense of humor with carefully placed pseudo-dramatic bits and one hell of an over-the-top climax. While it’s easy to pinpoint which is the better film in this case (again, my opinion), comedies of quality in this vein are – plain and simple – easily capable of being recognized. Given the specificity the term “comedy” implies however, there leaves very little room for innovation within the subgenre except by way of brand of humor (family-friendly, R-rated, etc.) and subtle plot-related divergences.

Click here for a graphic displaying my favorites from these two initial subgenres.

Martial Arts

Having not thoroughly familiarized with this particular cinematic niche, I’ll be withholding my presently sparse musings until I’m more worthy of dissecting it.

Thriller

For the uninformed, action-thrillers nowadays can’t quite be bunched together as easily as they once were, all due to the recent uprising of a movement known as “vulgar auteurism.” In short, these so-called vulgar auteurs have made noticeable waves throughout the bombastic blockbuster circuit, but not in the traditional sense. Instead, they pride themselves on the visceral exposition of the simpler side of the genre – the action, sans substance of course. Paul W.S. Anderson’s most recent entries into the long-standing Resident Evil franchise are prime examples of this – films that undeniably sport the director’s singular strengths as a purely visual filmmaker, the individual narratives falling by the wayside to promote the more superficial (but involving) attributes.

This isn’t to say that the action genre is dead – not by a long shot. As a prime example, films like Brad Bird’s Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol have established a legacy for themselves – a legacy steeped in engaging back story, emotional gratification and, above all, a brain. While the below list denotes my unfamiliarity with the defining mid-to-late 80s blockbusters, I am however familiar with their legacy, more so the side of it that continues to influence the genre today. From blatant, tongue-in-cheek efforts (The Expendables) to the legends that never but should die (Die Hard), there will always exist a hidden agenda that aims to emulate the classics to varying degrees.

Click here for an infographic displaying my favorites from these two latter subgenres.

Derin’s Genre Wiki Wednesdays: An Introductory Post

After mulling it over for a considerable amount of time, my next big blog-centric undertaking will manifest itself in the form of several comprehensive genre Wiki pages. “Genre Wiki?” you’re assuredly asking yourselves, and I’m here with this preliminary rundown to explain things to you. As you may know, there exists many a core type of film, ranging from your typical run-and-gun 80s-style actioner to good ol’ fashioned “hard” R-rated comedy and depression-inducing romantic melodrama. Inherently, a film placed within any one of these varying sects will sport defining singular characteristics that set them apart from the bulk of the pack, plopping them confidently into one of many discernible “subgenres.”

Put plainly, the number of subgenres out there in the industry is staggering, and I place the utmost emphasis on the word. Whether it’s a common apocalyptic entity (zombies) or a purposeful emphasis on love found and heartrendingly lost (Blue Valentine, Like Crazy), these types of films have all been branded with ever-expanding monikers in a continuing attempt to appeal to a specific audience. Do a lot of these films fall flat in their intended exposition of said specificity? Of course, and more often than not, which is why when something particularly groundbreaking comes along, that one production immediately establishes itself as a prime example of how THAT type of film should be made.

I’m aware that the examples I’ve chosen are shallow in comparison to the vastness of the subject I’m earnestly trying to tackle, and I apologize for that in the interim, however below I’ve provided an in-depth infographic – one that concisely outlines the particular genres and corresponding subgenres I’m going to examine, discuss and file films under at relative length. Please take note that I’m very willing to field outside assistance in the realm of foreign genre filmmaking as the topic in itself is a mammoth undertaking, more specifically from those that favor one distinguished region over another. As for all of my self-authored material, it will be influenced solely by my personal cinematic experiences to date and, as such, will be written entirely by me to promote discussion.

As for the categorization of the films themselves, I’ll be listing my favorite and least favorites separately by decade, all of which will be classified via the elements each possesses across the increasingly layered genre universe. I’ll divulge more details as soon as humanly possible, but if you could, I’d appreciate it if you could voice your concerns or support of the individual lists I’ve compiled as of yesterday evening. Thanks in advance, and I look forward to getting this underway!

Genre Wiki Wednesday