David Fincher is my favorite director. It’s as simple as that. I am a huge fan of thrillers and Fincher is a god at making them. I think it is practically impossible to find a fault in Fincher’s direction. Fincher has chosen poor scripts in the past (The Game, Panic Room, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button) but he always elevates those bad scripts with his masterful direction. What I love about Fincher is how he tells so much with the smallest details within a frame and also for his ability to create a strong atmosphere in his films. Tony Zhou of Every Frame a Painting created a fantastic analysis of Fincher’s style and explains that it is what Fincher doesn’t do that makes his films so special. I have inserted the video down below.
I’ve explained enough about Fincher so let’s just cut to the chase. Here are my five favorite David Fincher films of all time.
5. Gone Girl (2014)
It is easy to view Gone Girl as superficial. But the film does have a lot to say if you look beyond the lurid and trashy thriller surface of the film. Aside from the obvious messages about marriage and gender, Gone Girl also acts as a vicious satire of the media’s effect on people’s perception of the world. Ben Affleck is perfectly cast as Nick Dunne, whose wife goes missing on their fifth anniversary. Since Affleck has gone under huge media scrutiny before, he understand how his character feels and can fully capture the frustration of being screwed around by the media. Rosamund Pike is a revelation. She has the tricky role of playing Nick Dunne’s wife Amy but completely nails it. Pike was able to portray the multiple dimensions of her character to create one of the most controversial and influential fictional characters of this decade. Although the film is adapted directly from Gillian Flynn’s 2012 novel of the same name, it is easy to pick out many of the Fincherisms within Gone Girl. Initially just a flat out mystery thriller, towards the third act Fincher dives into his signature total fuckedupness by offering a comically dark viewpoint of the subject. In Gone Girl, Fincher plays around with the audience just like he did in 1999 with Fight Club, deliberately making us submissive to his control but I guess that’s how he has kept us captivated all these years.
4. Fight Club (1999)
1999 was an exciting year for movies. Fanboys were disappointed over The Phantom Menace, audiences were in awe over The Matrix, other audiences were puzzling over The Sixth Sense‘s ending and critics were screaming endless praise for American Beauty. But no other film caused more fierce debate than Fight Club. By now, Fight Club may seem dated due to its heavy references to the late 1990s but I think that’s where the film’s genius is. No film has better captured the generational change from the Baby Boomers to Generation X. It is a satire of consumerism skewering our priorities and of how we view masculinity, especially during a generation of “men raised by women”. Fincher shows this through a pair of characters but still manages to explain a whole generation. All of this is told in a highly stylized and cinematic manner. From its wacky cast to its color saturation to its excessive violence, Fight Club demonstrates Fincher’s talent as a film craftsman.
3. Seven (1995)
Seven did not have much going for it back in 1995. The director of Alien 3 and all those creepy Madonna music videos is making a psychological thriller with Brad Pitt? Pfft, whatever. Then audiences who went to see the film were completely blown away, turning Fincher into a serious thriller director and Brad Pitt into an actor who is more than just a pretty face. Seven has the perfect setup for a thriller. A murderer murders people based off of the Seven Deadly Sins and two detectives have to crack the case. Of course there are a few twists and turns to keep us awake but it is the dreadful atmosphere that truly keeps us enthralled. The innovative opening credits sequence set the mood perfectly, giving this unsettling feeling to the audience. Fincher’s constant use of low-lit interiors and rain help persist the dreadful atmosphere of the film’s crime-filled setting. There are plenty of thrills throughout the film but none of them are cheap. There is plenty of gruesome imagery in the film but most of it is implied. Fincher never goes overboard, even though Seven is arguably his darkest film. The contrasting personalities between Pitt’s Detective Mills and Morgan Freeman’s Detective Somerset help add a new layer of life to the film’s script. Their building relationship is captivating all the way to the end of the film, and the conclusion of their relationship is also extremely well planned out by Fincher. The film’s terrifying finale has left people in shock for the past 20 years and has become iconic (I won’t spoil it but I will say the ending involves a box). Fincher utilizes all of the thriller genre conventions and elevates them to create one of the best psychological thrillers of all time.
2. Zodiac (2007)
It is rare for a film to end inconclusively and still feel satisfying. Fincher uses his obsessive directorial style to create a story about obsession and makes a terrifying real-life unsolved crime story into an even more terrifying crime film. Unlike Fincher’s other crime thrillers, Zodiac is patient in showing its characters diligently solving crimes in a realistic manner but still inventive enough to make us interested in the crime. Jake Gyllenhaal gives perhaps his most underrated performance as Robert Graysmith, a cartoonist who is determined to crack the case of the Zodiac killer. Graysmith’s determination doesn’t annoy us but instead make us empathetic for him. Supporting performances from pre-Iron Man Robert Downey Jr. and Mark Ruffalo are also both fantastic, adding two more diverse perspectives on the Zodiac murders. Fincher does such a seamless job using CGI to recreate 1960s San Francisco that you can never tell whether a scene is shot on a green screen or on a real location. Usually I am not a big fan of huge amounts of exposition in film but in Zodiac, Fincher uses exposition expertly to build dramatic tension. He doesn’t just create a wave of exposition and pour it all down on us but allows us to float through it so that every time a character learns a new piece of information, we get all the more excited. After watching Zodiac, I wanted to start my own mini-investigation to find the Zodiac killer. I wanted to gather facts. I wanted to make new discoveries. I became Robert Graysmith myself.
1. The Social Network (2010)
Before The Social Network, several critics viewed Fincher as just a talentless sick-minded thriller director. Fincher’s first attempt at making a non-thriller film was with The Curious Case of Benjamin Button but that didn’t help reshape his image at all. But after The Social Network came out, those critics were banging their heads after realizing how versatile Fincher is as a director. Despite being a drama, The Social Network still contains many of the stylistic choices that Fincher applies in his thrillers. In a sense, The Social Network can be viewed as a crime thriller with the film’s intertwining legal depositions and just the overall anxious nature of creating and leading the world’s largest social networking website. The film’s rapid fire editing and haunting musical score along with Jesse Eisenberg’s performance all bring Aaron Sorkin’s brilliant script into something more than just a retelling of Facebook’s founding. Yes, I know the film is highly fictionalized but what isn’t fictionalized is what the film is trying to say about modern society. The Social Network may be Fincher’s most unsettling film, not because of scary murderers or scenes of graphic violence, but because of how effectively the film represents entrepreneurship and social media’s effect on society. Mark Zuckerberg’s rise to power and resulting isolation is an example of how the Internet has broadened the view of what success is. Zuckerberg creating a social networking website without knowing anything about human interaction defines the irony that has existed in our society for the past decade. We use social media to feel closer yet socially we are becoming more and more distant. The Social Network‘s ability to keep the creation of a website thrilling and insightful is the best example of Fincher’s capability as a director which is why it is my favorite Fincher film of all time.
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