“I was once a shameless full-time dope fiend.” – Gus Van Sant
Gus Van Sant has been ruling the sphere of Hollywood cinema for nearly six decades now, reigning supreme as the bridge between commercial films and arthouse cinema. Incredibly versatile, the director has worn various crowns on his head, from being an Indie Portland director in Hollywood who resisted genre classifications to becoming the auteur of the New Queer Cinema movement. His extraordinaire lies in his innate capacity to direct films of varying themes pertaining to various forms of subculture and counterculture, ranging from homosexuality, death, family problems, existential disillusionment and more. Incorporating elements of dark comedy in his film, Van Sant is known for his close-up and Steadicam shots as well as other elements that he uses to spring elements of surprise on the audience.
Van Sant’s films cannot be pigeonholed into a particular box. From incorporating queer tropes to black comedic elements, brutal imageries to colourful tones, the director are well-known for his oeuvre that also includes an ambitious remake of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho as well as a Kurt Cobain eulogy. Van Sant pays extra attention to his narrative as he has often said that “if you don’t have the story and the unfolding trajectory of the saga, it’s like getting in a car and not having any gas”. Known for films such as Milk, My Private Idaho, Good Will Hunting, Drugstore Cowboy, Van Sant debuted with Mala Noche. Nominated for various awards and accolades and has received many, he prevails as one of the most resilient and trailblazing directors.
Influenced by the likes of Stanley Kubrick, Bela Tarr, Werner Herzog, he is one of the most talented and creative filmmakers in the realm of the indie renaissance. Known for his ability to portray characters who are marginalised and exist on the fringes of society with utmost depth, on his 69th birthday, the filmmaker deserves all the credit and appreciation he receives. For all Van Sant fans who are desperately missing the director’s work, check out the following five films on Netflix to relieve the sheer beauty of films characteristic to Van Sant.
5 films Gus Van Sant fans will love:
I’m Thinking of Ending Things (Charlie Kaufman, 2020)
The film abounds in stream-of-consciousness monologues and ominously surreal aesthetics where various events unfold in the life of Lucy when she takes a road trip with her boyfriend Jake to his parent’s farmhouse in the middle of nowhere. After she arrives at his parent’s secluded house, his parents turn out to be socially inept and her boyfriend’s nature starts spiralling while Lucy keeps receiving anonymous phone calls.
Kaufman, like Van Sant, defies any kind of genre categorisation. His film narrative is fiendishly idiosyncratic and lacks coherence. It is difficult to comprehend the narrative as the atmospheric horror is heightened by the existential anxiety projected by the characters that are well-portrayed by a brilliant ensemble. The film gradually tends to lose track of identity, time, memories and emotions as it weaves a menacingly poignant dreamlike sequence with a powerful climax.
“You can say anything, you can do anything but you can’t fake a thought.”
Dallas Buyers Club (Jean-Marc Vallee, 2013)
This biographical drama is based on the story of a Texan cowboy electrician named Ron Woodroof who was diagnosed with HIV AIDS in the mid-1980s when a lot of stigma regarding the disease prevailed as not much was known about it which led to subsequent ostracisation of the patient. With just a month in hand to live, Ron desperately tries to experiment with the treatment and illegally smuggles in drugs. Not paying heed to the growing pressure and resentment from Food and Drug Administration, he sets up the Dallas Buyers Club to distribute the same to patients undergoing the same predicament.
The agony and anguish as well as harrowing strife for survival are horrifying and awe-inspiring at the same time. With a phenomenal set of performances, Matthew McConaughey’s performance as Roy helps shoulder the film forward. The actor even won a well-deserved Academy Award in 2014 and in his acceptance speech, praised Woodroof’s determination, resilience and perseverance.
“You enjoy your life, little lady. You only got one.”
I Don’t Feel At Home In This World Anymore (Macon Blair, 2017)
Ruth is having a hard day as she encounters various problems that range from a dog littering her yard to her house being burgled. She is determined to find the ones guilty of doing so as well as teaching her insensitive neighbours a lesson. With the dog’s owner, Tony, Ruth embarks on a series of misadventures to hunt down the thieves before finding themselves encountering a bizarre set of characters.
This dark comedy deals with modern American society that abounds in stereotypes regarding societal behaviour, mental health and gender norms. The existential despair that plagues Ruth results from the daily drudgery of life. The slice of adventure brings back meaning before she slips into the meaningless of life yet again, albeit with Tony by her side. Ridden with existential overtones, this moody, surreal black comedy is complemented by excellent cinematography, dexterous shots and superb performances.
“Just look at those goddamn monkeys.”
Moonlight (Barry Jenkins, 2016)
The film offers an intimate insight into Chiron’s stages of development, from childhood and adolescence to adulthood. As an African-American boy, he tries to stay afloat in a world while dealing with pertinent issues regarding identity, abuse and sexuality. The drug dealer Juan prevails as his mentor and in a poignant scene, as Juan teaches him how to float in water, it is almost as if he teaches Chiron to stay afloat in the perilous waters of life.
Barry Jenkins does not hold back when he subverts the conventional tropes of masculinity and blackness as he interweaves the same with vulnerability and emotions. Visually seductive, Moonlight is mellow and fluid as it explores the position of a black man desperately trying to seek his identity while grappling with his budding sexuality. The difference between one’s perception and reality brings out the mythical duality of existence and Jenkins is delicate and tender in his portrayal. The film is mesmerisingly poetic with beautiful writing, stellar performances and sublime cinematography.
“In moonlight, black boys look blue.”
Call Me By Your Name (Luca Guadagnino, 2017)
Set in northern Italy, this picturesque film sees the nerdy 17-year-old Elio falling in love with the handsome 24-year-old archaeology student Oliver who is his father’s student assistant. Gradually, they get to know each other better and Elio grows even more attracted to the charming Oliver. Love blossoms and they engage in frenzied love and passion before coming to terms with the bittersweet reality of life that is mingled with longing, loss and uncertainty.
Incredibly poetic and symbolic, the film focuses on a torrid love affair between Armie Hammer and Timothee Chalamet’s characters who have superb on-screen chemistry. Their characters convey the feelings of love, melancholy, despair and regret with unimaginable depth and desire, heightening the emotional effects of eventual separation. With touching performances and wonderful dialogues and cinematography, the film is a lovely exploration of a blooming queer relationship that eventually ends in a disastrously beautiful heartbreak.
“Perhaps we were friends first and lovers second. But then perhaps this is what lovers are.”