A Lars List

A Couple of Days Spent looking back on M. Night

I can think of no other filmmaker quite like M. Night Shyamalan. Not only because of his signature storytelling style, his comparison to Alfred Hitchcock is unavoidable and acknowledged. More so because of the insanely high expectation level he cemented for himself after his smash debut, The Sixth Sense, one of the most talked about films of the past 50 years. The Sixth Sense practically gave us the phrase “Spoiler alert.”

Here’s the way I rank M. Night’s films:

Unbreakable    “You know what the scariest thing is? To not know your place in this world. To not know why you’re here. That’s…just an awful feeling.” Now that’s a theme a storyteller can hang his hat on! There cannot be good without evil. There can be no hero without a villain. Comic books manifest this better than any other form of story telling. Unbreakable is the origin of a super hero. Bruce Willis a perfectly somber as his reality unfolds. Samuel Jackson is perfectly tormented as his identity is finally validated. This is definitely a film for comic book geeks who deeply embrace the mythology of their medium. It is also a film I can watch over and over and over again and appreciate more and more each time. M. Night knocked this one out of the park.

The Sixth Sense   So good. One of those truly memorable cinematic experiences that you never forget. A film with a lot of heart about the agonizing pursuit of soul redemption and the ability to forgive. Again, Bruce Willis dials in just the right stoic tone to pull off the slight of hand required; and Haley Joel Osment took “precocious child actor” to new heights without making us want to throttle him. I think we all see dead people a little differently thanks to this gem.

Signs    Faith: do things happen for a reason or is life a series of random coincidences? This is one of Mel Gibson’s better performances before his infamous flame out. The heartbreak at the center of the alien invasion tale holds up pretty well, and there is just enough creepy crop circle factor to keep you on edge throughout. Also solid performances from Joaquin Phoenix, Cherry Jones, and Rory Culkin.

The Village   Can innocence be preserved? If so, at what cost? This is a well-crafted film with some pretty decent work from the likes of William Hurt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Judy Greer, and Adrien Brody. The payoff doesn’t hold a candle to The Sixth Sense or Unbreakable, but that’s a tough bar to reach every time out.

Lady in the Water   M. Night’s homage to old school story telling. We’re talking really old school cavemen writing on cave walls type of story telling. Does man, with all of his war mongering ways, deserve to be saved? That’s the setup anyway, the payoff is not quite as compelling. But…it’s still an entertaining film that introduces us to an appropriately pasty and innocent Bryce Dallas Howard. Could have done without Paul Giamatti’s annoying stutter effect, though. Bad accents and unnecessary speech impediments can really submarine a movie watch.

The Happening    Lame concept about environmental green house photosynthetic terrorism. I think. Something tells me M. Night watched Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth the same week he sat down and penned this clunker. Very lame script with a cast that drowns in each implausible scene. Against my better judgement, I gave this film a second look because my sons like Mark Wahlberg. I decided half way through to view it as a comedy and that made it a little more palatable. I hope none of this made it on to Zooey Deschanel’s demo reel.

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