L13FC: Sam Mendes films

Welcome back to the Lucky 13 Film Club. It’s my lucky day! Not only is it my birthday, but I also get to talk to you all day long. It’s the perfect present. Let’s talk about the director Sam Mendes. If you have seen 1917, then you know what a visceral, gripping movie it is. For conversation starters, I claim that 1917 is in the top 5 all-time best war films ever made. Better than Saving Private Ryan. Much better than Dunkirk. Even better than Platoon (a personal favorite for decades). What made it so good? The orchestration of the cameras headed by cinematographer Roger Deakins surpasses the norm. I appreciate Sam Mendes for taking risks and making an interesting film to watch. What do the critics say? Do you dislike the illusion of continuity with long shots edited carefully to look like a continuous take? Remember Hitchcock did that trick with Rope (1948) and recently, Alejandro G. Inarritu’s Birdman (2014).

Here are a baker’s dozen reasons I loved 1917:  1. Let’s walk beside the soldiers as a ghost and feel what it was like to be in WW1. 2. The subtle, intense performance by George MacKay (Defiance). 3. The cameos of fine actors taking a backseat. 4. Mendes’s beautiful shot compositions. Even in the horror, the burning city, the dogfight, the eerie spotlight shining on the charred silhouette below is beautiful. Notice I keep repeating the word beautiful. It’s not easy making the horrors of war visually stunning. 5. It was based on stories by the grandfather of Sam Mendes. Bravo! 6. It’s historically accurate including the layers of trenches and German bunkers who had much better-living conditions like bunk beds. 7. The ending is perfect. 8. Proof that simple stories are the best. Two friends are tasked with crossing No-Man’s-Land to report to a general to call off an attack in the morning. From point A to point B, can you survive? While other war movies feel like a video game, I didn’t feel that here. 8. There were no schmaltzy, cheesy lines or the usual hero tricks. Actors Dean Charles-Chapman and George Mackay were everyday men who were scared but pushed on. They were completely convincing. 9. CGI was not a distraction but used to sew the film together, to enhance it, but not reign supreme.10. Bravo for only saying two f*cks  in the whole movie. War is profane enough. 11. It was a film about the human experience; therefore, multiple generations could experience a war that never should be forgotten. 12. 5,200 feet of trench making. The details, the timing, and 4-months of rehearsals. The cameras move 365 degrees. Cinematographer Roger Deakins is brilliant. 13. Sam Mendes made a film that will be hard to improve upon for a long time. It’s a game-changer.

If you haven’t seen 1917 yet and don’t like spoilers, don’t watch this video. However, if you like what goes on behind the camera, how they filmed 1917, I’ve included how they made the movie. Spoilers ahead.

Okay, obviously I’m enthusiastic about 1917. It’s certainly not the only fine film by Sam Mendes. Let’s discuss your other favorites. Which ones did you like? Why? From the posters below, my favorite is Road to Perdition. 

65 Comments on “L13FC: Sam Mendes films

  1. I am going to see 1917 at the cinema this week. A rare outing for me, but a film I am sure will benefit from a bigger (albeit not huge at my local cinema) screen.
    I am 30/70 with Mendes so far. I don’t like Bond films, (by anyone) and didn’t enjoy Revolutionary Road. I thought ‘Jarhead’ looked good, but was a dull experience. I had zero interest in seeing ‘Away We Go’, but I loved ‘The Road To Perdition’, and just adored ‘American Beauty’.
    He also made ‘The Hollow Crown’, a simply wonderful TV series that I lapped up!
    I will review 1917 soon, as long as I can get into town to see it this week.
    Best wishes, Pete. x

        • I liked both very much. One thing that Mendes does is focus upon making compositions. With AB, I still remember the plastic bag flying around while actor Wes Bentley (who was marvelous) filmed it. Keven was at his prime before his fall from grace. Annette was melodramatic, but I liked her as the bitchy wife. The Nabakov Lolita theme was interesting. I remember bile catching in my throat when Lester is just about to consummate his desires with Angela — I was never so happy when the “dad” part of him came to the forefront. The film had depth. I’m glad it won a lot of awards. Skyfall was beautiful and one of my favorite Bonds. Not too much a fan of Spectre, though.

  2. I have been tempted to see 1917 by the TV blurps. Now with your fine review I know I will see it. But I have to wait to see it on TV. Until Hollywood uses Close Caption in movie theaters it is silly for me to sit there and not understand the dialogue. My favorite, like you, is Perdition.

    • That’s the one to see. Mendes directing is great in that one. I don’t know if Tom Hanks was miscast, but I Loved the little boy and the story plot. A fine period piece.

        • Hmm. I was wondering if he was miscast. I guess not. I had a hard time seeing him in the role. I have not seen it in a long time. I bet I’d like it again upon another viewing.

  3. “1917” is without a doubt one of the best films of the year and certainly worth discussing as one of the best war films ever….you are right, we follow along as if there with them, and you get an incredible visceral feel of what WWI was like. He went one-for-two with the Bond films, and I want to see “Road To Perdition” again – your post has reminded me to!

    • Listen to that score. It really elevated the film. So glad you love 1917 as much as I. I am sure it will win cinematography and director…

      • Yes, there was a shock omission for “1917” – no best Editing nomination, but perhaps they felt one continuous shot didn’t have any edits, even though that was part of the magic of the editing!

        • Ha! Yes, well, if they have to forget something, then I guess that’s one to ignore, although, I agree, it was one of the unusual, interesting parts about the whole film.

          • Yes…they pointed out that “Birdman” won best picture but didn’t have an editing nominations and it also used a “single take” concept…

          • The excitement of the red carpet leading in was fun – there’s an air of a huge party and everyone is so excited to be part of it – all dressed up! then the reality of watching it play out on TV as you really can’t mingle and move a lot because they need to keep it “TV ready” – the Governors Ball afterwards is a blast because there is lots of food and drink and the winners are all sitting at tables with their Oscars prominently displayed!

          • Great question. I attended The Globes as well and to be honest, THAT is a non-stop party! Snacks and wine on the table, lots of table-hopping – they LIKE it to look like a raucous party! Here’s an Oscar anecdote for you: I was friends with Steven Soderbergh for awhile and he told me at the Oscars, when he was double nominated for Director (Erin Brockovich and Traffic) he KNEW that Ridley Scott was going to win for Gladiator – he said Scott knew it too – so Soderbergh snuck up to the bar that sits at the entrance to the theater and had many Vodka Tonics throughout the show…he was hammered and stunned when they called his name as winner, and Scott GLARED at him as he stumbled by to get his statue!

  4. I saw Jarhead 2, does that count? It was okay, but I wouldn’t write a post talking about it. I have heard great things about 1917 and will try to get to it.
    (Lately I’ve been moving furniture, taking the other-half to the doc and just ordinary life getting in the way. But I will get to your book review – believe it or not!!)

    • Ha! I hope you liked it! Thank you!
      But seriously, you will regret it if you don’t drag your wife to the movies. You will love 1917. I know you well enough to be that confident. Do it. That’s an order! 🙂

  5. I’ve heard nothing but good about 1917 recently, now your post has convinced me I should make a rare foray to the cinema. All the 13 attributes you feature make it sound a must watch, in particular #10. Constant swearing in modern movies really grates on my nerves after a while. I haven’t seen many of Sam’s films. Like Pete I found Jarhead a slog to sit through. I have seen bits of Road to Perdition and definitely need to see the whole film, especially for Paul Newman.

    • HI Paul! Yes, gratuitious profanity is annoying. I confess I have not seen Jarhead. But, Road to Perdition is worth another look for the score, Paul Newman, and the interesting story in a period of time that I find fascinating.

  6. happy birthday cindy/. i liked revolutionary road and am grateful to mendez for revitalizing the bond movies. havent seen 1917, but it seems to be the leading contender in the best picture oscar race. im looking forward to seeing it. im not fond of any of the three pictures you cited as it being superior to, but mendez has shown a fine command of action in his bond films so im looking forward to seeing it. one minor correction. hitchcock did not deceive us into a false sense of continuity with Rope. He shot each ten minute magazine without a cut and ended each ten minute shot with a fade to match the opening shot of the next roll. each ten minute shot had to be completed without error or it was retaken from the beginning. may you blow out all the candles with one breath so that all your wishes come true.

    • Hi Bill. Thanks for the well wishes and your insight on Rope. I love how films are made. The video I included was interesting to me. And I’m glad you liked Rev Road. Are you looking forward to the new Bond? The director is Cary Joji Fukunaga. I only saw his Beasts of No Nation and was impressed. We will see how he handles Daniel Craig’s last shot at Bond.

      • im looking forward to the new bond, but havw little hope for it. fukimanga has done nothing significant as a director. jane eyre was a disaster…almost as bad as the new little women…and beasts displayed a vile sensibility craig seems butned out on playing bond. still, ill try to keep an open mind

          • craig was a refreshing variation on bond, a character more relevant to the cinema landscape of today than the past incarnations. i wish they would bo back to the beginning and give us ian flemings bond. do all the fleming books the right way. as cold war period pieces with a flawed protagonist. go back and re read dr no if you have forgotten who james bond really is. i have had enough of bond trying to kep up with the marvel superheroes. lso, lets get the double 0 business straight. it is not a license to kill. it is a licence to carry a gun and to use if if neccessary….most british agents were unarmed. i was encouraged by the globes, but this could be the worst ear ever for the oscars. although i havent seen it, im betting on 1917. it cant be as bad as the rest. and they just dont make snse florence Plugh gave one of the best performancat worked at all were thes of the year in Miidsommer, but she sucked in little women. the only scenes in the movie that worked at all were those with saoirse roman. and there were so many fine roles for women….jud is tops of course, but cate was deserving, and the whole cast of knives out. none of the supporting actor or actress nominees were worth a damn.. pain and glory should win best foreign film. all adapted screenplays sucjed. marriage story and knives out had good original screenplays. phonix is desering for oscar but banderas was much better in pain and glory. all nominated directors sucked. except maybe mendez. it was a decent year for new movies, but the oscar nominez mostly sit my my darkest circle of hell.

          • Ha Ha. Love the Inferno reference. I love Dante. Anyway, your line “I have had enough of bond trying to kep up with the marvel superheroes.” I agree. I would very much enjoy going back to the roots and starting over fresh. I find Craig emotionless and it’s hard to sustain me for 2 hours anymore with Bond films, truth be told.
            Someone I read this morning was talking about the diversity isuuse with the Oscars. The only way it will change is if you have more diverse Oscar voters. I didn’t see Midsommer, but I remember you liking it. I saw Marriage Story but wasn’t overwhelmed by it. It was good. That’s all. That’s how I feel about a lot of movies these days. Those that are good get 4 out of 5 stars. They are satisfactory but they don’t move me much. Sigh. It might be because I’m getting old and it’s hard to impress me or I don’t get the current generation and their angst — they seem wimpy to me. And their movies reflect it. Well, I was impressed by three things this year: Joaquin and Renee’s performance. And 1917. That’s about it!

          • i agree with you on marriage story but when everything else is so badm it stands out. it reminds me of silver linings notebook m an average film that was so much better than most everything else of the year. marraige story was the first time i liked scarlet since ghost world, and ive laways liked that guy who played the lead. and laura dern was really funny…she sure sucked in little women though. when you ave absolute crap like once upon a time in hollywood and the self cannibalization of the irishman and the general inconpetence of little women all vying for brst picture of the year, it is easy to finnd oneself cheering for marriage story. still i hope to agree with you on 1917, so i can cheer for it on oscar night.

  7. Pingback: 45+ 1917 Reviews – Real WWI Trench Warfare – Movies, Movies, Movies

  8. I thought “Saving Private Ryan” was a really good film until I watched “The Big Red One” of Samuel Fuller.
    As for “1917” I shall definitely watch it, especially as my Grandad was there with the Canadian Army. Not that he said very much to me about it when I was a boy.

      • how could anything be as good as the big red one. sam fuller went to war because he knew it was the crime of the century and he wasnt about to miss out on it. he wrote the novel the big red one from his personal experience. after the war, he made several excellent wr films, and this was his masterpiece. fine as 1917 may be, it is only a period piece, made by people who were not there.

        • Tis true. And Mendes’s grandfather’s recollections could be slant and exaggerated. But I’d like to think it happened. While The Big Red One has the ethos behind it, it’s not a film I could watch over and over. 1917 has the trump card – beauty. I could watch 1917 several times admiring the construction of the movie and the whole composition like a fine album. I can’t wait for you to see it!!!! If you have seen it, you haven’t commented which means you hate it but don’t want to hurt my feelings. It’s okay if you don’t like it. 😉

          • i havent been able to get a copy yet, which is odd because of the nominations. we dont see many WW1 movies because there is nbody around who was there, but some fabulous ones were made in the early days. i really hope i like this one, but imust ocnfess to hating with a passion american beauty, whch i found to be one of the most vile things i had ever seen, and was indifferent to road to perditionm although i only saw it once. i should watch it again very soon.

          • I want to do a rewatch. I am surprised by my reactions when I see a movie that is 20-25 years old. Either it is better or worse than I remember.

  9. I’ve just been rounding up a couple of friends to go see ‘1917’.
    Is there anything more horrifying and stupid than human beings killing each for political reasons made by people we don’t even know.

  10. First of all — happy birthday Cindy!

    I cannot WAIT to see 1917. The anticipation is now actually excruciating. My favorite Sam Mendes film is a toss up between Skyfall and American Beauty. The former just might be the pinnacle of Daniel Craig-era Bond; the latter one of the most brilliant and incisive commentaries on suburbia I’ve seen. I still love Kevin Spacey in that movie. Also Annette Bening, she’s sooo good.

    • Hiya Tom! Thanks for stopping by. Oh, I know you well enough to know you’ll adore 1917. Can’t wait to read your review of it. Skyfall was one of the best Bonds I’ve seen and the pinnacle. I am hopeful for the new one in April, but I don’t know if Craig has it in him. He seems more and more tired. I think he’s become wooden in the role. Kevin Spacey is a such a great actor. It is a shame his personal antics caused a fall from grace that I don’t know if he will ever recover. Too bad! I loved him in so many roles. The king of the 1990s…Anyway, I’d enjoy rewatching American Beauty. I bet with older eyes now I’d see much more than when I was in my 30s.

  11. I absolutely love Skyfall, but I’m also a big fan of Road to Perdition. I soooo need to give that one a rewatch.

    • Me, too, to both. Road to Perdition I liked the score, Paul Newman, and the boy. The historical time frame of the depression era was detailed and accurate. I remember I wasn’t too sure about Tom Hanks in the role. I wonder if it’s free on Netflix…

  12. Sorry, I’m not a Mendes fan. Absolutely HATED American Beauty (I found it tacky, ugly, self-indulgent), I didn’t care for Road Perdition either (Paul Newman was the only thing I liked about the movie). But I LOVED, LOVED Revolutionary Road! I haven’t seen the other titles. I do want to see 1917… the theatrical trailer looks great! 🙂

  13. Great post 🙂 I have not seen 1917 yet, but as far as Sam Mendes is concerned, he directed one great film (Skyfall) and one very good film (Jarhead), but that is about it. Anyway, keep up the great work as always 🙂

  14. Woah, I dunno about -much- better than Dunkirk! 😛 I thought that was one of the most tension filled movies i’d ever seen. Though I can see what you’re saying. I need to watch this one again as I was too sleepy the first time around

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