Every time I’ve seen the Spike Jonze-directed Beastie Boys video Sabotage– and we’re talking roughly a thousand different instances– I’ve wished, if only for a passing second, that the video was instead a full length movie feature.  The cinematic brilliance of that single three minute spoof rivals Black Dynamite as my favorite work of throwback, self-aware, nostalgic movie parody.  On that note alone, Adam Yauch’s birthday would warrant a celebratory mention on a website that deals exclusively in film.

But there’s more to the equation than that.

In the early to mid-90s, an era known for innovation in the mainstream and alternative rock scenes, no band or group displayed more courage and fresh approach than the Beastie Boys.  Years later, member MCA (Adam Yauch) would lend that same edgy vision and artistic creativity to  film. Yauch worked with former THINKfilm executive David Fenkel to create Oscilloscope Laboratories, a production company whose film branch works to produce and distribute up-and-coming artists with innovative and fresh film vision.

In the current world, it’s as difficult to believe in pioneers as it is to believe in fairies and magic tricks.  What’s left to pioneer?  Every land has been discovered and mapped, every story told and retold.  But occasionally, there comes along someone who slices the brush on the edge of the horizon, opens our view of the landscape, and reveals more space than we imagined.  Someone who makes makes the art form feel new again.  Adam Yauch was first that sort of pioneer for hip hop and then later, through the company he co-founded, he offered a launchpad for similar courageous pioneers in the film industry.

Today would have been Adam Yauch’s 50th birthday.  We should all celebrate by purchasing an Oscilloscope Laboratories release.  I’ve listed my favorites below as suggestions.  This advertisement is wholly unsolicited, and for lovers of film and music, it should be entirely unnecessary.

 

Bellflower

Medusa

It’s hard to describe what makes this film appealing.  Evan Glodell’s writing and directorial debut looks crisp, assured, and urine stained. Two young men in California party, plan for the apocalypse, and deal with love and betrayal to violently disastrous results.  The bumbling, spacey dialogue is, at times, annoying and the slow build of the love story into revenge tragedy is uncomfortably fierce in its climax.  But there’s something precise and new in this film, a freshness and courage rare to debut features that offers a master class in tone that creates the best apocalyptic movie to be completely absent of an apocalypse.

Meek’s Cutoff

Meek's Cutoff

Kelly Reichardt established a signature narrative style in her earlier film’s Old Joy and Wendy and Lucy (also available on Oscilloscope Labratories) but it is in this pioneer drama that her reserved pacing and her muted realism are most perfectly employed.  Patient performances from Michelle Williams and Paul Dano (two of the best young talents working today) help showcase a quietly brutal, still and unflinching look at the hardships of westward trailblazing in early America.

The Messenger

The Messenger

Ben Foster has teased the status more than once, and someday it’s going to stick.  Foster is a superstar leading man waiting for a breakout.  When that breakout comes, this will likely be the movie we point to as evidence of the moment’s inevitability.  Foster stands shoulder-to-shoulder here with the great Woody Harrelson in a necessary portrait of the real damage that war leaves on the individuals lives of the soldiers who fight them.

Samsara

Samsara

The third segment in a visual trilogy, Samsara succeeds at a goal so bold  that it deserves to be catalogued alongside some of the most ambitious films in history.  It is absolutely fitting to mention this film in the same breath as Tree of Life, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and this year’s stellar Boyhood.  Filmed entirely in 70 mm over five years in over two dozen countries, Samsara attempts to illustrate the large context in which human life exists on the planet, to mesmerizing effect.  It is a type of divine poetry, and worth the purchase if only to be the movie you use to test the quality of your high definition home theater setup.

We Need to Talk About Kevin

Kevin

A gripping  domestic horror story, a study of at-home terrorism, and one of the most brutal studies of teenage violence available in film form.  Tilda Swinton is devastating as Kevin’s mother, the main target of his evil. I agree with the general film populace that Swinton is an actress of endless ability but for me, this is my clean choice for her best performance.  Equally impressive is young Ezra Miller as the titular son whose evil is only witnessed by the mother and the audience.