Friday, June 15, 2018

Ranking the Charlie Kaufman films

I generally go through life untroubled by thoughts of Charlie Kaufman. If you were to interrogate me in the street, I might struggle to recall who he is.

But when you notice that a couple of long-term inmates on your to-watch list are by the same person responsible for several other films you've found enjoyable, original and memorable over the years, it's worth paying attention. Even if just to take that arrogant 100% hit rate down a notch (or better still, maintain it).

Here are my The Top 7 Charlie Kaufman Films. Not many, but maybe he couldn't be bothered to pad it out with mediocre ones?


Writer & director

7. Confessions of a Dangerous Mind (2002)

Chuck Barris' seemingly earnest yet clearly bullshit memoir of his secret double life as a light entertainment assassin is probably funnier in concept than content. Dramatised by other people, it loses even more. A documentary getting to the bottom of this would have been more interesting.

6. Human Nature (2001)

This isn't the deepest philosophical treatise ever filmed, nor the funniest comedy, but it's an enjoyable blend of both. It never gets insufferably zany, but nor does it commit the sin of treating any of its preposterous subjects seriously. Still, it's hard to condition myself to see it as the successor to Malkovich and not the amateur debut.

5. Anomalisa (2015)

Kaufman's irrepressibly unconventional, but it's Duke Johnson's painstaking stop-motion animation that makes this film. If it was filmed normally with Malkovich-style superimposed faces, it wouldn't be anything special and the loathsome protagonist would piss me off even more.

4. Being John Malkovich (1999)

I'm in a better position to get what this film's doing today than when I watched in baffled enjoyment as a teenager who considered his tastes nonconformist but was still subconsciously shaken by the lack of convention. It's not a personal fave (maybe I still haven't got it then), but the fact that this atypical flight of fancy was a popular hit makes me despair a little less for the species.

3. Synecdoche, New York (2008)

Having previously written a screenplay about writing a screenplay, Kaufman's first turn as writer-director naturally stresses over the greater responsibilities of the writer-director to populate and micromanage a believable world.

Since reviews of this film tend to focus on how press-stoppingly magnificent or pretentiously depressing it apparently is, I'd like to point out that it's funny too. Unfiltered by the comforting wackiness of Jonze or Gondry, the more surreal elements are played confidently straight. Some people may have found this confusing.

2. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)

Charlie Kaufman's Black Mirror script  is a more elegant sci-fi fable than Human Nature. It also turns out to be less comically convoluted than my misremembered headedit, where they did this dance a few more times. I thought Nicolas Cage made a better Kaufman than Carrey, who was still under contractual obligation to be intermittently wacky at the time, but her from Titanic was good.

1. Adaptation. (2002)

I have more time for smart-arse metafictional indulgence than most people, but it's rarely this rewarding. Frustrated screenwriters will get the most out of it, but Kaufman's self-evident, self-effacing story of spinning failure into success is inspiring regardless. Reliably funny too.

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